Finding Myself On the Other Side of the Tracks

stock.xchng: Stock Photo by Mercale
I’m not usually a very impulsive or spontaneous person. If anything, my close family and friends would agree that I painstakingly take my time to make a decision. It’s not that I can’t be flexible. I just prefer sticking to a plan and going with what I know. Researching  my options seems logical and responsible. I fear the unknown often.


But, that is in regards to my own life. When it comes to the people around me, well, that is a different story. I don’t give much thought before saying yes to the needs of others. Sometimes, I forget to weigh all the options. In fact, the only option I usually see is to help when asked.

However, there are opinions in my life that perhaps I help too much, and it is only then that I start to question myself. Just recently, I have been given an opportunity to spend some time with a local non-profit dedicated to strengthening the character and self-esteem of the youth in our community. Before any details were discussed about time and commitment, the words “I’ll do what ever you need me to do” started popping out of my mouth. And for a split second, I could hear those Negative Nelly’s squawking in my head.

Do you really have enough time for another project? Is this going to take away from your own family’s needs?” 

But then I came to my senses when my subconscious reminded me of this story:

A few years ago, on a beautiful spring morning, The Tortoise, The Hare and I finished shopping at The Dollar Store. The Dollar Store was a weekly event for us. I could give them a couple of dollars and they would spend an hour or more picking out “something special”. It was about mid-morning as we walked across the parking lot carrying our treasures. Both girls were chattering away about all the things they wanted to buy “the next time”. About half-way to our car we were approached by a plump, aging woman loaded down with multiple bags and belongings. She didn’t look like she had showered in days, and her hair was in distress. Frayed and tattered clothes covered her body.

“Miss…Miss” she called out sweetly. “Could you spare some money for the bus?”

“Where ya’ going?” asked The Tortoise who was probably only in second grade at the time.

“Home,” she replied, “Just on the other side of Ypsi near Depot Town.”

“We’re goin’ that way, aren’t we mom?” added The Tortoise excitedly. “Couldn’t we just take her home?”

By now we were face to face with this woman. She was about my height, our eyes met directly and I found myself lost in her large brown gaze.

She smiled, “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble.”

“Of course not,” I nodded, ushering everyone to our mini-van.

“No trouble for my mom, ” piped up The Tortoise.

I opened the passenger side door for our guest and started to help The Tortoise into her booster-seat, then buckled The Hare into her car-seat.

“This is real nice of you miss.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I just smiled back. As we were pulling out of the parking lot The Tortoise spoke up again.

“Hey mom, we were heading to lunch, do you think our new friend would like some lunch?”

Our passenger looked down at her lap, fumbling with her hands. There was a scent of body odor and roses hanging in the air.

“Would you like something to eat on the way home?” I asked.

“No – no miss. Just the ride is fine. I don’t mean to trouble ya’ or nothin’.”

“It’s really no trouble. Anything you want is fine with me.”

The girls were delighted to pull into the KFC drive thru. The only time they are allowed to drink soda is if we eat out. It’s a special privilege. The girls and I ordered individual lunches. The woman ordered a family meal: a large bucket of chicken, a couple of sides and a bag of biscuits.

Conversation became less timid as we approached the other side of Ypsilanti. I discovered that she had a love of music and used to play the piano when she was a girl. She had lived near this neighborhood her whole life. The summers were always  her favorite time of year because there were free outdoor concerts by the river within walking distance. I knew exactly what she was referring to, because I played for two groups that performed on that very River Park stage.

“Oh – this is me,” she said, pointing to an old, worn out yellow colonial on the corner.

I had driven by it many times. It was nestled among beautifully restored historic homes. The sidewalk was broken in front, framing a yard full of weeds and over-grown shrubs. The siding was in desperate need of new paint, and I was quite sure that the front porch would collapse any day. Some of the windows appeared missing – it was definitely abandoned property.

I helped her out of the car.

“You and me,” sighed the woman, “Mighta been friends another day.”

I held out my hand, “I couldn’t agree more.”

Her hand slipped into mine, shook it firmly, “Nice to meet you friend. My name is Emily.”

My heart stopped for a second. Surely I had heard her wrong.

“Mom!” shouted The Tortoise again, “Did ya’ hear that? She has the same name as you, Emily.”

I watched the old woman tottle around to the back of the house with her bags and bucket of chicken. It was a minute or two before I turned the engine over. I kept waiting to see if there was any signs of life in this familiar skeleton. I couldn’t help but wonder who she was sharing all that chicken with for lunch, or when she would get her next meal.

The Tortoise started to giggle, which made The Hare start to giggle.

“What’s so funny?” I asked still dumb-founded by the whole encounter.

“You kinda just drove yourself home.”

4 thoughts on “Finding Myself On the Other Side of the Tracks

  1. Wow. That post totally struck a nerve and I am now in tears. GHAAAA! I truly believe that each person we encounter came into our lives, for however long or short, comes to us for a very specific purpose, that there is something we were ment to learn from them. Of course we don’t realize when it’s happening, but when you look back and really think about it….that person changed you a bit, didn’t they? I have a feeling that neither you nor the other Emily will ever forget each other, and for some unknown reason, you were destined to meet. Great post!

  2. OK. Well thanks for the afternoon tear fest here in my office. It’s amazing what a simple gesture can do for someone else, and how much it teaches us in the process. Plus, your kids will probably never forget that woman.
    I have never forgotten the homeless man my mom helped in Taco Bell when I was little. I see his face everytime I help a homeless person now.
    Amazing post. Thanks for sharing

  3. wow that is an amazing story. I don’t believe in accidental encounters. For whatever reason you were supposed to meet her that day and I bet you helped her when she needed it most. I think you and I might be soul mates – I too take on way too much and volunteer without even considering the details. I am so glad there are people like you in this world – we need more.

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