Cri de la coeur.
On a weekend afternoon I’d driven over to one of my favorite parking spots needing a bit of fresh air and sunshine on a day with the kind of chill that often makes old bones ache and movement painful.
A older woman, large eyes peering out from under a baseball cap, was attempting to back into one of the parking spaces next to me. I motioned ahead to two spots closer to the water telling her she’d have a better view there. As I was getting ready to leave she backed into the spot next to me and motioned she wanted to talk.
Beginning with profuse apologies she then rambled: she was 72–she was widowed—she’d recently taken a fall—she was carrying stuff in her car waiting until she could give it away—she was sleeping in her car to “test out” what it would be like to drive across America in a used van she hoped to purchase—she’d given up her apartment.
I thought I saw worry and fear in those large eyes but I did not know, or trust, where this encounter was headed. My physical need in that moment was to be lying down on my bed not sitting in the car, an audience of one trying hard to listen while questioning what my role was in this situation and trying to think through flooding pain. After a bit my body discomfort overcame whatever I was being asked to do, and I made my excuse and drove away.
Later, a friend reminded me of a recent encounter she had experienced in a different town with a homeless, car-bound woman who, eventually, asked her for money while she was getting gas. With troubled thoughts and accompanying compassion my friend gave her the largest bill she carried in her wallet.
There are hundreds of questions below the two sketchy, skittery “conversations” that took place. Whatever was beneath the stories each woman told, there was the truth of two women in troubling circumstances. One story is disturbing, two stories exponentially more so. Are there women panhandling from their cars that have become their homes? Have they come here because it is seems safer or because it is cooler in these summer months? Our two encounters seem unlikely as happenstance and each carries unpleasant resolve.
My chance encounter turned my woes into a grateful “Thanks” for my circumstances. “Old age is not for sissies” said my mother and through each new awareness and, with what is learned in conservations with fellow travelers, there comes the challenges aging brings. There’s the daily unfolding knowledge that we can no longer power ourselves through or do simple tasks that once would have easy. Old bodies often hurt. A lot. Sometimes there are blessings and occasional grace that allows seeing bigger pictures and contexts. Sometimes, alone, we just get through the day as best we can.
What are the things we need to know before we pass from this life? What are the responsibilities each of us holds in seeing our world with flashes of what might resemble wisdom? If indeed wisdom is present, then how do we share what we’ve learned?
And now there’s this new question: What is our role when our paths cross troubled (and troubling) souls?