By the time I got the seedless red grapes, Granny Smith apples, Jiffy cornbread, and chicken noodle soup in the car to head to my daughter’s house, I realized I was probably going to be a little late. No problem, I thought. She’s making brownies for dessert and isn’t going to do that until after she gets home around 5:00 o’clock.
The steady but gentle rain the coastal area had been experiencing for a couple of hours worsened as I drove inland towards Conway. Traffic was slow and stop-and-go until I got to Coastal Carolina. Then it came to a dead stop. No inching along. No nothing. Must be a terrible wreck. Hope no one is seriously injured, I thought, knowing that my hope was likely in vain.
Vehicles gradually began to inch forward, and after about twenty minutes, I was sitting at the intersection of Hwy. 501 Business and Hwy. 90, a distance that can ordinarily be covered in five minutes. The rain pelted the windshields, and I noticed the back wiper wildly swishing away the water. All I could see was a long string yellow lights behind me. Red headlights lay ahead as far as the eye could see.
I shivered involuntarily. Although it was not yet 6:00 o’clock, the sky was dark and gray except for the unrelenting rain seen through the headlights of my car and hundreds of others. Dismal, I thought. And gloomy.
I felt rather than saw a presence to my right and was startled to see a woman standing there in the rain. Without umbrella or raincoat, she wore a head covering of some type and a white sign with black letters. It was too dark to decipher all the words, but I felt her message. She was a woman in need. We locked eyes for a couple of seconds before I reached into my purse and rummaged for some money. I found five dollars and lowered the window.
The woman approached. She looked early 50’s but could have been much younger. Her brown hair was medium length and matted, and some of her top teeth were broken. She leaned down towards the window and looked at me, her eyes sad yet hopeful.I didn’t say anything, just handed her the bill. “Thank you,” she said before asking, “What’s your name?”
“Jayne,” I replied.
She smiled a smile that broke my heart. Except for the grace of God, go I.
“Well, thank you, Jayne.”
“No problem,” I replied.
“You didn’t ask, but my name’s Lucinda.” (not her real name)
I gulped. She might have been homeless or hungry or both, but the lone woman standing in the rain outside of my nice cozy Highlander had an identity. I made a mental note of that before responding, “Well, you better get someplace dry, Lucinda. It’s nasty out tonight.”
She gave me that sweet, melancholy smile again and backed away from the car.
I moved ahead in the line of traffic, looking through my rear view mirror towards the back windshield. I couldn’t see her. Had Lucinda been an apparition? No, she and I had shared a moment on a cold, rainy March night.
Thirty minutes later I was sharing soup and cornbread and brownies with Elizabeth and Travis. We shared conversation, laughter, and conviviality around Elizabeth’s table. What was Lucinda doing while we basked in warmth and buttered our bread? What is she doing today? Where will she spend tonight? She’s just one person. There are thousands of invisible people whose identity we don’t know.
Is there a lesson in this story? I don’t know. All I know is that it was a surreal encounter and that I’ll never take my good fortune for granted again. Jayne with warmth, nourishment, and loved ones. Lucinda with ???