Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Someone Else’s Storm

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 deal with.

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 her.

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.”

1 comment:

  1. I took my time reading this. I did not want it to end. I knew there would be closure, but that closure would only serve to open another door. I was right. You did not disappoint.

    Really glad I was able to read this, and understand it. Thanks.