Despair

I could see it in her eyes. Despair. She was walking through the neighborhood, knocking door to door to sell an energy package. I am familiar with energy packages; the utility companies allow other vendors to compete on electric and gas charges to mitigate any monopoly perception — but that is a complex sell and it was apparent she wasn’t prepared for it. As she spoke, she was visibly tired and seemed desperate. After I conveyed that I was not interested and shared my thoughts on the overall product she was selling, she softened her stance and turned to leave. As she reached the road she turned to share that this was her child’s birthday and she just wanted to be home with him.

That sharing of unsolicited information touched me. She saw me as one who cared. My guess is that she was probably 25 or so, unmarried, unskilled and very new to this job and failing at it. I wished her well and continued with my own daily priorities, although her face and the sadness in her voice stayed with me.

Later that day I saw her in a different part of the neighborhood, looking down as she walked, clearly discouraged. My inference was that she was through working for that day and was going home. Seeing her despair brought back memories to me of an earlier time when I was in a similar situation: no special training, no good job prospects and the feeling that my life was going nowhere. Again, although I identified with her crisis, I continued on with my own initiatives for the day.

Many hours later, I took our dog out for a late-evening walk. The streets were dark, the air was cold, the wind was brisk. As I always do, I had a flashlight to guide us. We had walked only 50 yards or so and I heard the young lady’s voice. She must have been out in the neighborhood for most of the day and was walking slowly. Seeing me she felt a need to express her emotions of the day. So I listened. Her day had been a failure, she had sold nothing, she hadn’t eaten all day, she hadn’t been to the bathroom in many hours and she had been waiting for her ride home for over an hour and had more than an hour more to wait. And she wouldn’t be able to buy a small gift for her son’s birthday. Life seemed to be failing her on all sides.

And then she reached out to me; she asked to use our bathroom. Small? Insignificant? How often do we make such a request of a stranger? I took her home, and while she was in the bathroom I explained her presence to my wife, who was predictably concerned on having a strange person in the house at night, and in a room with the door closed on a separate floor. I wasn’t worried; I knew what the woman was experiencing as I relived my own experiences from early years. Being in a house that is a home, a house with warmth and furnishings and food and a sense of stability and safety when you have nothing of your own can be overpowering and depressing. When she came to thank me and take her leave, I could hear the change in her voice. Sadness, yet a sense that I cared. I so wanted to solve her problems, yet I knew that these issues she must face alone as did I those many years ago. Knowing she was penniless, I gave her some money and she was surprised at my gesture. I wish now I had given her more. She disappeared into the night, but her presence remains. I wish her well.