This is the first of what I intend to be weekly posts that use quotes as a jumping-off point for self awareness and personal growth. Grab a journal or sketch pad to record your responses and reactions to the questions at the end. See my post from August 30th for more information.
The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
One of the finest writers of his times, American poet and author Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. was also a physician, lecturer, university dean, and law student.
A young woman practically leapt out at me as I pulled into a pharmacy parking lot one afternoon a few months ago, because she seemed not to belong in the setting. Pretty to the point of being striking and perhaps not much more than 20 years old, she was sitting all folded up along the curb, with a heartbroken, almost forlorn look in her eyes and on her face. Her face haunted me as I did my shopping. I knew she was no midday drunk—in an instant, I had considered and dismissed the idea that her pained look had anything to do with substance abuse. My thoughts had moved on to awful possibilities, such as the idea that she might be a victim of human trafficking, which has become a big problem in our area, and I knew I’d continue to ruminate and worry about her if I drove off without checking on her. So, when I was finished shopping, I decided to drive by the place where the girl had been sitting, just to see if she was okay.
The girl was still folded up in the same position I’d first seen her, so I rolled my car window down to ask if she was okay. She replied that she had gotten to the pharmacy by bus and now wasn’t sure how to get home, because she’d waited over an hour, and no bus had come. I explained that I didn’t know much about the bus schedule except that it didn’t run as frequently in the middle of the day as it did in rush how. I asked where she was trying to go and what she needed, and she told me she could get home if she could only make her way to the metro.
I happened to be planning to drive right past the nearest Metro station. I knew intuitively that she was no threat, and so I mustered up my courage. I told her I’d never given a ride to a stranger before, but that if she wanted a ride, I was willing to take her to the Metro.
I could see her sizing me up, and then a look of relief crossed her face. Charmingly, she informed me that she’d be a safe passenger. “I’m not going to kill you or anything,“ she informed me earnestly.
On the ride to the subway, significant pieces of her life story poured out. She told me she’d recently moved to the area from out-of-state because her fiancé had died, and she’d decided to move home with her mother. She told me many other private things that out of respect for her I will not share, but I got stuck on the idea of what it must be like to grieve when one doesn’t have society’s stamp of legally being a widow, especially at such a young age. It also clarified for me why she looked so lost and forlorn when I first noticed her.
After I dropped her off, I called my husband to tell him what I’d done, not because I believed I had been in any danger, but because I felt guilty about breaking the safety rule of never giving a ride to a stranger. He was unsurprised that the young woman had shared so much of her life story with me, because people randomly share so much with me. He also thought it was no coincidence we’d been thrown briefly together. I agree.
THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION
We all have rules of life we follow, most of which become automatic and receive no thought from us. Consider your rules of life. What are the significant ones? Why do you follow them? What has been the outcome of breaking one or more of them? What did you learn? Do you have regrets?
The young woman I met was grieving the loss of her fiancé. Would you feel differently about her and her loss if she’d been a newlywed? What if she’d been slightly older and married several years? What if the fiancé’s death had been from something like a drug overdose rather than disease or an accident? How would that change your reaction?
How do your unspoken rules of life serve you? Have they kept you safe, perhaps? How have they harmed or hindered you?