Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Be Where You Are

When Gracie and I head out on a walk, we never know what might happen.

As I turned to press the crosswalk signal, I saw that she was crying. 

She was a beautiful girl, maybe sixteen years old. A thick mane of dark hair piled artfully on her head. Her outfit - a black hoodie with a white graphic paired with white jeans - was fire. She carried that confident and composed vibe of a genuine it girl. But her big dark eyes were dripping with tears, and her mouth crumpled in a sob. 

In a flash, I decided to ask. 

In that same instant, I heard a small, self-righteous part of me resisting the idea, sanctimoniously arguing that this girl's problems were a private affair, and I'd be wise to mind my own business. 

Sometimes, though, that bratty voice is the one who needs to mind its own business. 

Turning to face the girl, who was now just a few feet away from me, I spoke the words on my heart.

"Are you okay?"

She was close enough now that I could see the tears rolling down her cheeks. 

She shook her head emphatically. No.

"What's wrong?" I asked, allowing my concern for her to swell up in my voice, knowing full well that this could be the wrong thing to say just as easily as it was the right thing. 

Words flew out between the gasping breaths. I could barely make out what she was saying but I gathered that she'd been hanging out with friends after school and a few wise-mouthed boys in the group had dragged her. I did my best to convey to her that I understood.

"Jerky kids?"

Yes those were the exact words that popped out my mouth. Ugh. I cringed at my own bizarre phraseology.

She nodded. And I fumbled on.

"I'm sorry. It gets easier. But I'm so sorry."

She nodded again, and kept walking. 

Gracie and I crossed the street.

But Gracie is always ready for anything, and in that way, she inspires me.

I was glad that I'd talked to this girl; thankful that I'd taken advantage of that split-second opportunity to make space for her. But I hated what I'd said.

What I'd meant to say, I reflected, was something more like this:

I'm sorry you're going through this frustrating phase of life where stupid kids say messed up things and hurt each other, far more than they realize. 

I'm sorry you don't have a trusted friend at your side right now who would wrap her arm around you, whisper some hilarious clap backs in your ear, and set you to laughing through your tears.

I'm sorry that the world can be such a cruel and ugly place. I wish I could take away your pain.

And I wish I'd said:

Life gets easier. High school can be really rough but it doesn't last forever.

As you get older, you'll have more opportunities to choose the company you keep, and you won't have to waste your time on boys with bad manners.

You deserve better. Always stick up for yourself, even if the only thing you can do is walk away.

As I followed my dog home, I agonized: Why didn't I say more to this girl? Why wasn't I more articulate? Why didn't I take the time to think before I talked, to offer more than cliched catch phrases and vague bits of wishful thinking?

I don't know. I couldn't help but feel disappointed in myself. 

* * * * *

At home, as usual, I offered my dog her dinner and sat down on the porch to watch her eat. Desperate for an interruption to my self-judgement, I flipped open my phone and began to scroll.

Three posts in, I found it.

Be where you are. The rest will follow.

I let out a breath, settled back in my seat, and felt the tension fade from my shoulders.

By staying present in the moment, I'd reached out to a person in need, and that was the most important thing. The words themselves - "the rest" - had indeed followed. And if they'd felt silly, incomplete or ineffectual to me, no matter. They may have hit very different for this girl, and it was not my job to judge them.

Or myself. 

* * * * *

Reflecting back on my painful walk home, I remembered now that as I'd watched the girl walk along one side of the street, keeping pace with me on the other side, she'd pulled out her phone and began tapping. 

I'd like to think that she reached out to someone safe. Maybe her mom, or a sister, or a trustworthy bff. I hope she told them what happened, and I like to think that they responded with all the right words.

As for our chance encounter, I hope the day will come when this girl comes across someone in pain, and I hope she too will decide to respond, however her instincts dictate, in that pure and desperate moment.

Be where you are. The rest will follow.

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