Last year, a few days before Thanksgiving, this happened…
For the past few weeks my new co-worker has been driving me home from
work so it’s been a while since I’ve had to take the bus home. I’ve
never asked him for the rides home, he volunteered and I’ve been
grateful for them. Aside from saving the bus fare, it enables me to get
home a full 40 or so minutes earlier. My lack of transportation isn’t my
co-worker’s problem, but he makes it his desire to help me out.
A few nights ago however he had a commitment that required he leave
work early, but it was no big deal for me to jump on the bus home. I’ve
been doing that for the better part of the last few years so why not,
right? The only thing was, I was going to need to jump on a 2nd bus
since I needed to buy something at Walmart, a short diversion away from
the regular bus route.
While waiting at the bus stop for the 2nd bus to pick up, it started
to rain. I opened my umbrella and turned to the very young woman sitting
beside me, and asked her if she wanted to grab some dry space under it.
It didn’t require her to scoot close to me; it only meant that I would
hold it between us so it extended over both of our heads. She agreed
thankfully; thankful for the protection from the rain, and thankful for
the kindness of a stranger.
We started talking. She was 20 or 21, less than half my age. She was
also quite pretty. Now before you think that you know where this story
is heading, no, it didn’t go there. That’s not what developed between
us. That is not what this story is about. She opened up and started
talking, and talking, and really talking; about personal problems
between her and her ex-boyfriend, and other life issues.
“I’m sorry” she said. “This is so weird. I just needed to talk to somebody.”
Under normal cases I would have thought, why is this stranger telling
me her personal life and how did I get stuck here? I have enough of my
own problems, problems I literally don’t share with close friends
because I don’t want to talk about them. As much as I don’t feel up to
sharing my problems with others, do I really want to sit on a bus bench
and listen to some stranger talk about hers? I have my own storms to
It rains on all of us, just the same.
I don’t know why, but I liked her. She was a stranger and she
obviously needed something from me. It wasn’t money, it wasn’t a ride,
it wasn’t food. It was raining, and she needed to be dry. And I had an
umbrella. But that wasn’t what she needed.
The bus came. We got on. It was crowded. We sat apart. She got off at
the stop in front of the store near where she lived. My stop. She got
off, I exited behind her. We started talking again. I told her where I
was going, and she decided to tag along.
“I just need to talk to somebody.”
We walked across the long parking lot to the front of the store. The
rain had stopped, so I closed my umbrella. We sat on the window ledge at
the front of the store and talked for the next half hour.
Her ex had broken her heart. She had lost a lot. She had left another
state behind to move here with him, and then he had left her for
another. There were times since when she’d felt alone. Few friends to
turn to. Days of depression, nights of loneliness. Occasional thoughts
of suicide. I understood her. I felt her emotions. I have been there.
Years of struggling with depression. Occasional thoughts of suicide. One
attempt at it when I was a teen, another near-attempt in my early 20’s,
some serious thoughts about it in the years after. I had been there. I
felt her. I knew.
I shared some stories with her, the disasters in my life, the
mistakes I’d made, the failures I’ve had, the pains I’d suffered, the
striving to obtain positivity in my life and leave the negative thoughts
behind; the times I’d managed to do that, the instances where I’d
fallen short of it. I told her about the time a woman I’d fallen for had
broken my heart, a woman who I’d put my trust in to bring happiness
into my life; how friends later told me I needed to rely on myself first
for happiness, and all other things were a bonus. That’s what I advised
Bake your own cake first; rely on another to apply the frosting
afterward. Don’t entrust someone else to add the frosting before you
have a solid cake to base it on.
I told her I was old enough to be her father. I had years of mistakes
behind me, and years of experience in moving forward anyway. We talked
more about suicide. I told her that no matter how bumpy the street was,
no matter how long the dark road was, you never know when the smooth
road and the answers you seek were up the block and around the corner.
If you give up and crash your car now, before turning that corner, you
can never know how close the solutions to your problems are.
If you don’t go the distance to get out of the rain, you will never know that the means to find peace is right where it’s dry.
She agreed with me. She trusted in God to watch over her. She won’t
kill herself, though it’s hard to not think about it from time to time. I
know. Been there done that.
She trusted God, but she found it hard to trust others. She felt like
she didn’t have any true friends anymore. I told her she was wrong, she
had a new friend, a true friend. She looked into my eyes and smiled, as
I took her hand and shook it. We exchanged phone numbers and she used
her phone to add me to her Facebook. She then asked me to check on her
from time to time; I said I would, and I will (since then, we’ve spoken
via text, and she says she is feeling better).
It’s amazing how God brings people into our lives when we need it
most. He put kindness into the heart of my co-worker to drive me home
every night. And the one night that he couldn’t help me, I took the bus
again, and wound up on that bench next to that girl in the rain. Right
where I needed to be.
A while back I’d written a new saying, a philosophy about sharing an
umbrella and something more. It was this past Monday night when I’d met
the girl at the bus stop, but it wasn’t until the next day that I
reflected on what had happened and connected it to that saying; that I’d
finally practiced what I preached. When I first wrote this little
message it seemed Hallmark-ish, even corny; but now it seems more like a
foreshadowing. It went like this:
“Be the umbrella in someone else’s storm. You may not be able to stop
the rain, but at least you can help them stay dry and share a smile
under the covering.”