There must have been something in her manner…
…some peculiar way she moved on the bridge, or the way she looked down at the traffic below.
It was too dark to see her face. And no time, really, to study and analyze the situation. I was driving and Carol was the first to see her there on the McCart Avenue overpass. I stopped the car at the corner and jumped out. Carol drove to the other side of the bridge, in the direction of our house, and waited. I ran up to the young woman and grabbed her as she leaned precariously over the edge of the overpass.
I told her it wasn’t time yet for her to go and that God had the answers she needed. She told me she couldn’t go on. There was no hope anymore. We took her home with us, got her something to eat and listened to her story, which was long and very sad. By the end of the evening, Carol had found her a place to stay—a shelter for battered women—and taken her to that place of safety.
I have a long history of talking with strangers.
I have a long history of strangers talking to me.
To this day I really don’t have a clue why.
Every time I flew home from school (or back) whoever was sitting next to me would be transformed into Chatty Cathy, no matter what I was doing or what mood I was in—which was more often than not a profound state of panic.
I’m embarrassed to admit I often didn’t even try to disguise the rolling of my eyes as this stranger verbally—and often physically—invaded my awkwardly introverted personal space.
There was no joy for me in this constant interaction with strangers.
And it showed.
Until the lady on the bridge.
The stories behind the stories
This poor, sweet lady finally got through that barrier I’d put between the outside world and the inside of me.
Every person who shares our part of this world has a story, whether they reveal it to us or not.
And a story behind the story even they may not be aware of.
And we all need to tell our stories and to be understood.
A thought has often struck me in the decades since I met the lady on the bridge.
What if I’d been wrong?
What if she hadn’t been about to jump?
What if I’d touched her arm and she’d panicked at this stranger invading her personal space?
The fact that I was right doesn’t eliminate the very real possibility that, next time, I may not be right.
I guess that’s the risk we take when we agree to be God’s instruments of grace to the people who share our world.
The lady on the bridge…
…helped me to see that the danger of not acting is often greater than the danger of pretending to be safe.
She’s the reason I’m not afraid to “have the conversation.”
She, helped along by thousands of other, less intense, encounters with strangers, has helped me discover and experience the power of connecting with a human being who is desperate to connect.
Twenty-seven years have passed since that evening and we have never seen the woman again. I confess I can’t even remember her name. But I know I’ll see her again, in heaven, because she came to the One that night who had all the answers she would need, and all the hope, and all the love.
It’s risky business, this engaging with strangers.
And sometimes messy.
But sometimes there’s simply no way around it.
You don’t always have time to analyze.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.