Sharon Randall, 1-18-12: Regretting she didn't help out a woman in need

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The night was cold, getting colder by the minute, forecast to drop into the 20s. In a rush, I hadn't bothered to wear a coat, a decision I already regretted.

I wanted to make two quick stops -- one at the market, the other for takeout -- before hurrying back to have dinner and start working on a column that was due the next morning.

For me, there's nothing like a deadline to remind me of things I need to do -- like pick up a 12-pack of Diet Coke.

At the market, I circled the parking lot to score a space near the entrance. Then I pulled my sweater tight about me and sprinted for the door.

I swear I didn't see her until it was almost too late. She was standing on the curb -- a little bird-like woman in a raincoat and kerchief, wobbling back and forth in sensible shoes, holding two bags of groceries, one in each hand, and peering up the street, as if waiting for a ride.

I spotted her just in time to stop inches shy of bulldozing her out into the street.

"Oh," I said, "I'm so sorry!"

When she turned, I realized she was younger than I thought. She studied me for a moment, as if she should know me. Then her blue eyes clouded, blinking with confusion, and she went back to watching for her ride.

I hurried inside, profoundly glad I hadn't plowed her down.

The shopping that should have taken 10 minutes turned into 30, partly because the Diet Coke was on sale ("buy more than you can carry and get a few more free") and I couldn't decide if the savings were worth the effort, let alone the strain on my back. At checkout, I tried to pick the shortest line, and it turned out to be the longest, which happens to me so often that I am tempted to pick the longest, just to see how long it takes.

When I finally left the store, dragging my load of Diet Coke, I didn't see the woman until I pulled out. She had moved down to the other entrance, and was still tottering on the curb, peering into passing cars.

That's when I heard The Voice. I suspect you've heard it, too. It tends to tell me things I don't want to hear, to do something I don't want to do, or avoid certain things that I want.

Sometimes it sounds strangely like my mother. Just once, I wish it would tell me something fun, like "Here, just for you, are the winning numbers for a Mega Millions lottery ticket."

Not this time. This time it said, "Give the poor soul a ride."

When I heard it, I had already driven past her onto a one-way exit street. To go back, I'd have to leave the shopping center, go down several lights, make a U-turn and come back.

I did not want to do that.

Also, she looked harmless, but if I let her in my car, how was I to know she wouldn't come at me like a spider monkey?

That is but one example of the kinds of questions I can always think of to try to reason with The Voice. But The Voice is never reasonable. It just keeps whispering, "Be kind," "Offer grace," "Do the right thing."

Fine. But first I decided to go pick up the takeout. Then I'd swing back by and if she was still there, spider monkey or not, I would give her a ride.

Imagine my relief 20 minutes later to come back and find her gone. Then relief turned to guilt as I considered the "what ifs."

What if she had tried to walk home and gotten hit by a car?

What if she were an angel on a mission to save the world by finding one good person and I had blown it for all of us?

What if I had given her a ride and she had given me a winning Mega Millions ticket?

And here's the biggest "what if" of all: What if next time when I hear The Voice, I just say yes?

(Sharon Randall can be contacted at P.O. Box 777394, Henderson NV 89077, or at www.sharonrandall.com.)

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