Talking to Strangers (or Jesus)

On Saturday morning, I strapped Little Bean into her stroller and set off on a mission: to buy myself a cup of frou-frou coffee-shop coffee. Lucky for me, we’ve got two small coffee shops in my little town, both within walking distance of my house.

Unlucky for me, both of them were closed on Saturday morning.

A little discouraged, I stood at the corner on Main Street and Hamilton, waiting for the red light to change. A woman stumbled up to the corner, paying no attention to me. She was in sweat pants that looked like pajamas and she seemed tired or worn out or both. When the light changed, Little Bean’s stroller got caught on the curb, so I ended up a few steps behind the woman as we crossed the street.

I heard her groan a bit as if in pain and seemingly begin to mutter to herself.

I assumed–uncharitably–that she was probably suffering from mental illness or intoxication. Maybe she was homeless. I didn’t know, and I chided myself for jumping to conclusions about a stranger.

We got to the other sidewalk and she turned down the street I needed to head down, so I continued to walk a few steps behind her. As we continued on, I found myself unable to ignore her. I thought maybe I should ask if she was all right, but quite honestly I didn’t want to. I was pushing my four-month-old, remember? Who wants to get involved with a stranger with a four-month-old tagging along?

Then I began to think of all the worst case scenarios that could have happened to result in this woman looking as she looked walking down the street, groaning and muttering and–I realized the closer I got to her–on the verge of crying. But I couldn’t help, even if she was in trouble. I didn’t have my phone with me, or a car nearby, or anything to offer to help this woman, I told myself.

I should have said that I didn’t have anything to offer her other than, well, me. And so I decided that was enough.

Taking a deep breath, I called out, “Ma’am, is everything okay?”

It wasn’t okay, as it turns out, but it certainly wasn’t any of the terrible scenarios I was imagining. She told me about hurting her knee the night before and how much pain she was in. She was nearly crying–she thought she’d broken something–and was trying to walk down to the next block to her mother’s house. Her mom was going to take her to the hospital. And she told me about medication she was on and why she was worried about it going to the emergency room.

As we got close to her mom’s house, I made sure she was okay, sympathized with her pain, wished her well, and began to go.

Then she turned to me–this is why I’m telling you this story–and said,

"Thank you for... um... talking to me."

For talking to her.

I didn’t really “help” her.

I didn’t offer her money, food, a ride to the hospital. I just asked if she was okay, and then I listened to her pain.

Now, I’m not saying every stranger we meet on the street is Jesus, and I’m sure not saying that she was Jesus, but I can tell you something.

She might have been.

And when all we have to offer to each other, to strangers, or to Jesus is ourselves, well, that’s enough.

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6 comments on “Talking to Strangers (or Jesus)

  1. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. As a teacher who sometimes feels frustrated with my inability to “fix things,” it reminded me of the importance of listening. It rings with a truth I needed to hear.

  2. Darla Botkin says:

    To be listened to, is to be cared about. Beautiful story.

  3. Darla Botkin says:

    P.S. Why weren’t the coffee shops open on Saturday morning???? Weird.

    • elizabeth says:

      Lock&Key is still being renovated apparently and I don’t know about Upbeat. The door just said “Closed Sundays,” but they were definitely closed. And this wasn’t super early either. Maybe 10 or so?

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