It was July 29/21 and I was doing it. I could nearly hear my dead mother gasp with shock, I could almost see my dead father giving me the head-shake of disapproval, and I was convinced I heard my husband cuss me out with worry, as I stepped on the brake to offer a ride to a stranger on the road of life.
A week ago, I wouldn’t have dared grant a lift to a scruffy looking man without having another person with me for added protection. I’m not a total country hick. I’ve seen the news reports and read the horror stories of well-meaning people picking up strangers and having things go dark and dastardly. I’m quite aware of how easily a stranger could overpower me, strangle me or stab me and then kick me down into a steep ditch. I even admit to being aware that the stranger could have driven away with my weeks’ worth of groceries and my daughter’s groceries too, leaving my family hungry. But honestly, at that point, none of those considerations mattered, the only thing that mattered was that I had been given a distinctive sign from above to offer this man a ride.
To be clear, there was no flashing neon lettering hanging over the gaunt man’s head instructing me to give him a lift. It was subtle, much more subtle, and in all fairness, the only reason I had noticed at all was due to my newfound meditation practice. For those in doubt, I wrote meditation, not medication. This practice tends to enhance one’s attention on life’s details in a way that is nearly magical. For myself, meditation gave me cause to open my heart to a scruffy stranger and as a result I was granted the wondrous gift of knowing we are all connected no matter our status in life.
Leaving the farmyard that morning, I had a smile on my face and elevated emotions in my soul and there was no reason for either. It was an overcast day, and I was merely going to town for groceries. As I turned off the gravel road and onto the highway I met another vehicle travelling in the opposite direction. Instantly, my thoughts drifted to the people in the other vehicle and I wondered about their lives. Not knowing a thing about them, I simply smiled at the black, shiny truck now in my rear-view mirror and said, “Good morning! I love you!”
I blushed a bit at my silliness. People would think I had lost it, never mind meditation, they would have thought I was on too much medication. But my current practice of mindfulness had taught me that my feelings are an important guidance system, so instead of judging myself, I considered how I felt: My heart was lifted with joy. Everyone could use a little more love I decided with a nod, and I certainly wasn’t hurting anyone, so continued to say I love you to every vehicle I met along the way.
Before I knew it, birds were soaring alongside my vehicle and daringly darting in and out in front of me, never seeming to be in any danger. It was as though they approved of my sentiments. I looked up. Clouds shifted aside and the suns rays fingered downwards displaying a kaleidoscope of colours shimmering with light. Magnificent. My heart blossomed hot pink. Feeling encouraged by natures response to my proclamations of love, I playfully began to singsong, “I love you,” instead of simply saying it.
Fifteen minutes later, I noticed the stranger up ahead on the side of the road, he wasn’t hitchhiking exactly, he was walking in the same direction as I was driving but in the opposite lane facing the oncoming traffic. I glanced at him as I passed and said, “I love you!” in an upbeat voice. My enthusiasm completely contrary to his demeanour. As I studied him in my rear-view mirror, I took my foot off the gas. My inner voice was suggesting I stop and offer him a ride. At that thought, my fears puffed up inside of me, a black balloon of programmed negativity expanding into every nook and cranny of my being. In an instant I recalled dire news stories, and many loved one’s warnings instructing me to never pick up a stranger. Those thoughts instantly deflated my good feeling vibe.
I stepped on the gas driving away from the stranger and wrestled with the morality of my decision. I gripped my steering wheel much harder than necessary. Maybe I should have stopped for him? After all, he was a person in need, my inner voice wanted me to pick him up. Guilt. A heavy self condemning dislike for myself stuck me with sharp barbs. All the sudden, a bird smacked into the front-end passenger side of my car with a loud thwack, and then 30 seconds later I hit my breaks to avoid killing another dodgy bird. See? I thought, even the birds are telling me I should have stopped for the man.
And then I felt ashamed. “What’s wrong with me?” I fumed, voicing my anger aloud. “Why am I so afraid of everything? We are the same, the stranger and I. We are all just people trying to find our way in this crazy fucking world.” My chest tightened; heavy with regret, with sadness. My decision had been wrong. I acted out of fear instead of love. I snorted at myself. What a hypocrite I am, I thought. Here I was shouting, “I love you,” to everyone, but without action they are empty words.
Coward. I though. My heart nearly winced at the abuse. Tears welled up spilling over, and then my inner guidance spoke to me, “By judging yourself you are in a sense disrespecting the stranger too; condemnation without offering space for forgiveness blocks all healing… we are all connected by the living threads of energy. He is you and you are him.”
Tiny streams of wetness ran down my cheeks and I was urged to place a hand on my heart and whisper, “I love you and I forgive you for being afraid.” And then I did not block the rest of my tears with my usual wall of hard self-judgement. Instead, I offered myself compassion. In that moment, I decided if I saw the stranger again I would stop and offer him a ride.
The grocery pick-up was quick and easy and before I knew it I did see the man again. He was still travelling alongside the road. I wish I could say I felt courageous but I didn’t, I felt the shaking hands of nervousness strumming my tethered line of fear. Sitting up taller and grasping at elusive threads of courage, I roped my emotions and turned into an approach a few hundred feet ahead of the somber trudging figure. Another human being that was down on his luck. Instantly, I wanted to give him something, my grandma’s standard fix for everything was food. So, I turned around and rifled through my grocery bags until I came up with a vibrant red apple. I set the fruit in my cup holder and looked up. He was closer now, shambling towards the car, his face hollowed and drawn, a bulging pack on his back. It looked like everything he owned was in that bag. He was so thin. My throat tightened with emotion, I wanted to help him with more than just an apple. What road in life had brought him to this point?
I snatched up my purse and grabbed my wallet hoping I had stashed some cash for a rainy day. I almost never carried cash. Today, there was a fifty and a ten. My desire to help swiftly wrestled my tight-fisted Scottish genetics into submission and I grabbed the fifty from my wallet sticking it under my leg for easy access. My Scottish bloodline kept the ten.
The man approached my driver’s window at a weary pace, rumpled and shaggy, looking as wary as I felt. I rolled down my window to greet him, and as he stepped closer my planned words were obliterated by my horror. His feet were bare. “Oh my God, you have no shoes!” I said with far more forcefulness than I intended.
He bent his head and studied his feet momentarily, almost sheepishly. Then, he sighed and met my eyes gesturing with a limp hand towards the lumpy knapsack on his back where his shoes dangled like an oversized car mirror decoration. “I got soaked this morning when the rainstorms came through,” he said, his voice rusted from lack of use. “My feet were getting rubbed raw, so I was letting them dry.” Weariness lined the edges of his dull blue eyes and blondish stubble roughened his face; thick straw-coloured hair stuck out from under the edges of a black ball-cap. His frayed tan shorts and faded t-shirt hung on him; a scarecrow left to be weathered and worn.
“Where are you headed?” I said, still feeling slightly nervous despite his harmless appearance. Fear porn news stories still rolling in the back of my mind.
“I’m going to Plamondon,” he said, a touch of hope sounded in his words. “I have a line on a job.” The stranger reached up with one hand, fingertips brushing the peak of his ball cap and then sliding back alongside his hair smoothing it down.
Plamondon was behind me and a little off my trail, but it would only be an extra twenty minutes. “Do you want a ride?” I asked, feeling lighter as I spoke the words. Love and kindness winning.
“Yeah, that would be great.” His cloudy eyes brightening suddenly; a flash of brilliant blue.
As he walked around the back end of my car, I tossed my coat and purse into the back to give him room to sit in the passengers seat.
The back passenger door swung opened, and he held his backpack in his hand looking for a spot to put his possessions. I awkwardly moved a grocery bag out of the way feeling a crushing sense of guilt at the amount of food in the car. “It was my grocery day,” I said, blurting it out, wanting to explain. “I shop once a week online and since I am at the store anyway, I pick up my daughter’s grocery order too.” I laughed, a stuttering laugh and then offered the stranger an excessive grin. “It saves two vehicles going… you know, the extra gas.”
He nodded politely, and set his gear inside and closed the door.
I turned back to the front and then remembered a container of delicate Hey Clay sculptures I had sitting on the floor in front of the passengers seat, they were my granddaughters creations. The door opened just as I lifted the treasures from the floor. The man slid into his seat and clicked his seatbelt into place, appearing completely innocent. The fact he had put his knapsack in the back had made me feel much safer.
I held the container out towards him like a peace-offering. “Would you mind holding these? They are my granddaughters—they were broken by her cousin—adorable sweet boy, but rough— and my husband has fixed them so I was returning them to my granddaughter today.” I was rambling, but he didn’t seem to take any notice.
He just nodded and offered the slightest grin.
I swallowed hard, put the car in gear and turned onto the highway back the way I had come. The stranger studied the carefully crafted blue dragon with interest. “These are pretty good,” he said, his tone honest.
I glanced over and smiled at his appreciation of the amateur art. “The sculpting material is called Hey Clay, it’s much better than the Play-Doh we used to have when we were kids, and it air dries really well too.”
His features suddenly softened and he appeared much younger.
“Well, you probably played withPlay-Doh when you were young,” I said, trying to make a connection with his past.
He nodded enthusiastically, childlike. “Yeah, I used Play-Doh all the time.” His scruffy face flinched then, as though the good memory hurt and he set the dragon back in the box with a light sigh.
Again, I wondered of his story, he seemed so wounded, his obvious pain triggered my desire to help even further. I remembered the apple and motioned to the fruit in the cup holder. “Oh yeah, I was wondering if you wanted an apple, I thought you might want a snack or something after walking this morning?” Ugh, I silently groaned at my words. Talk about minimizing; like he had gone for a pleasing stroll along the edge of the road to listen to the birds, instead of an agonizing walk in wet sneakers that rubbed his heels raw forcing him onto the pavement barefoot.
He reached down and lifted the apple with thin spidery fingers. “Thank you, I am kind of hungry.” He held it tightly in his hand, fist pressed against his stomach.
People have called me an empath, and maybe I am, I have always been sensitive, and this human being beside me leaked a type of suffering that I had rarely been around. The underlying pain and hurt inside of him was soul crushing. In that moment I just wanted him to know that he meant something. He was something. He was a living creation of a holy energy and that something was looking out for him in this world, whether we call it the Creator, or God or Source or Allah or whatever. This man needed to know he was looked after. So, in my authentic and unceremonious way, I said, “I was supposed to pick you up today.” I glanced at him brightly, earnestly… not crazily.
He met my gaze, eyes curious. “Yeah?”
“I mean, I was supposed to pick you up when I first saw you on my way into town, but—” I bit my lip and I frowned at my former actions. “—You know.”
“I let my fear stop me the first time,” I explained glancing at him earnestly. He dropped his eyes, clearly uncomfortable but I continued on, “And then by the time I reconsidered you were too far back. So then, I don’t know— the Universe, or God, or the Creator, or whatever you may believe, gave me the idea to stop and see if you needed a ride if I saw you on my way home.”
“Hmph,” he said, an acknowledgment but a dismissal as well.
I laughed. It was a genuine laugh. “I know. It sounds crazy, absolutely bonkers, but it’s true. You don’t have to believe me.” And he didn’t. But I felt at peace.
He scratched his temple. “No. That’s cool, I appreciate the ride.”
“Happy to do it,” I said, “What’s your name?”
My body, my brain, my very soul expanded with light. “Shut up!” I said, my filled with awe, bubbling over, my eyes wide. I’m nearly giggling as I explain, “My maiden name is Mitchell and my sister named her only son Mitchell. Isn’t that crazy?”
He patted his knee, unsure, and then nodded, his head a child’s rocking horse bobbing at an even tempo. “Yeah,” he said, his tone wondering. “Mitchell, isn’t a common name around here.”
I wanted to offer him more. “My nephew Mitchell is really clever.”
He bobbed again. “I used to be smart too,” he said, voice sad, regretful, beaten.
“I’m sure, you are still very smart.”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“You should give yourself more credit.” I said, in the tone of a bossy older sister, “Obviously the Universe believes in you, I wasn’t planning on picking anyone up today.”
He smiled and his eyes contemplated my words.
I slowed the vehicle as we drove into the small community of Plamondon. “Where do you want to be dropped off?”
He sat up taller looking ahead and pointing. “At the co-op gas station. Maybe I can get a coffee,” he said, sounding hopeful, “I could really use one.”
As soon as I rolled to a stop, I pulled the fifty dollar bill out from under my leg and thrust it towards Mitchell. “Here,”
Wide-eyed, he accepted the bill with a shaking hand, and then his brow creased as though he couldn’t quite believe his eyes. “Really?”
“Yeah really,” I nodded eagerly. “The Universe wants good things for you. You deserve good things.”
His voice trembled. “Well, thank you.” Appreciation shone on his face. “You have no idea how much I needed this.” And then he snorted happily. “Now, I really can get that cup of coffee.”
My heart sank. He really didn’t have anything. I watched Mitchell, hop out of my car taking tender steps on the rough ground as he retrieved his bag from the backseat. “Thanks again,” he said.
“Anytime,” I said “It was nice to meet you, Mitchell. Good luck on your job.”
The story doesn’t end there. There was one more gift in store for me.
On my way to my daughters to drop off her groceries, I picked up her mail. She had some parcels. At her house, after her groceries were put away she made me a coffee and then she began to open up her packages. As she sliced open the boxes, I started retelling the story of my day: of my spontaneous proclamations of love to everyone I met; how I wrestled with myself about picking up a stranger walking on the side of the road; how he had my maiden name, Mitchell for his first name, and how I I thought that was a sign that the love we have for others is the love need to have for ourselves. My daughter, Megan, followed the story nodding here and there, and then when she opened her final package exposing some gorgeous plumes of pampas grass, she squealed with shock. “Oh my God, Mom, this is crazy!”
“What? What?” I said, nearly dumping my coffee in my lap.
She thrust a piece of plastic with writing on it. “Look! Look at this!” She held one hand to her throat, tears forming in her eyes.I took it from her. And this is what it said: The bold lettering leaped at me. SAY “I LOVE YOU”
Blessed. I felt blessed. And then I read the whole thing and felt even more blessed. Today, was my wedding anniversary too.