It was the day after Christmas, and my car was the only one in the parking lot. Morning light was just arriving as I sat on a curb to tie my running shoes. I had my iPod playing “Watch Over You” by Alter Bridge. The song moves you in so many ways, and I have listened to it more than any other song in my collection of over a thousand. My intent was to run four easy miles with nothing but Alter Bridge turned up. I think I ran ten strides before I stopped, turned around, and walked back to the car to put my iPod away. I have no idea why I did that. Though later, I did wonder.
* * *
I took the trail along the river that cuts through town. I was not just the lone runner, but was the only person to be seen. Three sounds could be heard: the crunch of the gravel beneath my feet, birds chirping in the trees, and my breathing. Eventually, the trail turned and took me away from the river, leading to a long straightaway that ran adjacent to a street. On my left was a baseball complex, and on my right was a neighborhood. It was there that I heard the fourth sound: a woman’s voice.
“Excuse me….excuse me,” she said from across the street. Her voice was weak and sounded desperate. She was in her mid-30s, forty or so pounds overweight, and was pushing a two-seat baby stroller. As I crossed the street, I watched her wipe some tears off her cheeks.
“You okay?” I asked. The stroller was occupied with an infant and a child no more than two-years-old.
“I need to get to Siesta Mobile Home Park. Do you know where that is?”
I used to be a UPS driver in my town. There’s not a street I don’t know. “That’s over on Uhland road,” I said. “Kinda far from here.”
“At least two miles.”
Her face dropped. She was exhausted. She might have come from the nearby bus station, or had left a domestic dispute from within the neighborhood. Perhaps she hadn’t slept much all night with two restless children. I could speculate for hours, creating endless scenarios that would’ve led her to this moment. But I had no idea, nor did I know how long she had been walking that morning. Though I was curious as to why a mother of two was out at dawn, crying, and not knowing which direction she should travel, I didn’t ask. I was simply concerned with her current situation. But my options for finding help were few. Neither of us had a phone. I knew no one in this neighborhood, and the streets were silent. To give her directions to the mobile home park would entail many street names and turns. In her condition, it was very unlikely she was going to retain the information.
“Look,” I said. “If you see a police car, wave it down. That’s your best bet. I’m sure they can help.” And that was all I had to offer. I felt empty. Here was a woman in a helpless situation, shuffling through town with no idea where to go. I pointed her in the general direction. She thanked me for stopping before we parted ways. In an hour I would be home, taking a hot shower, while she would be…well, there was no telling.
I continued my run on the trail that led around the baseball complex. The fields, dugouts, and concessions building looked as dormant as the bare trees around them. Winter was here. Just what exactly was her story? Why the tears? How lost was she? I could only assume her Christmas was not much to talk about. When was the last time someone had given her reason to smile?
As I contemplated those questions, and rounded one of the baseball fields leading to a small parking lot, I found my own reason to smile. I came upon a police car. What were the chances?
On this quiet morning, as criminals and mischievous people were sound asleep, the cop was taking a break. As I approached his car, he rolled down his window.
“Excuse me, officer. I have a question.”
“Well,” he said, “I’ve got an answer. What’s up?”
I told him about my encounter with the woman. I said that she appeared legit—that she wasn’t putting on an act or fronting some kind of scam. She truly seemed lost and in need of assistance.
“Well then,” he said. “I’ll check her out.”
As he drove away, I resumed running, reconnecting with the trail that, again, continued along the river. This portion of the trail gave me an open view of the cop. I slowed my pace as I tracked his car approaching the woman and the stroller. Stopping alongside her, he rolled his passenger side window down. She leaned over and spoke while pointing in the direction I had told her to go. Moments later, he got out, walked around to her side, and opened the back door.
This was when I came to a stop, as emotion knotted in my throat. I watched him take the stroller as the mother situated the two children into the car. I thought about my iPod—about those first ten strides I had taken before making the decision to put it away. The only times I have ever returned to the car to not use it has been due to threatening rain. Other than that, I continue on. And what song did I last play that stayed in my head until I met the woman?
“Watch Over You”. How fitting was that?
I had come to a “Y” in the trail. If I went right, it would take me further along the river. I chose left to go past the cop car. The mother was bent over, adjusting her children in the backseat. She would never see me again. Whether or not the cop had mentioned me in their discussion was insignificant. All that mattered was the last sight I caught of him as I ran by: a reassuring smile. Even if a day late, it’s a beautiful thing witnessing the spirit of Christmas.
The song, putting away the iPod that later allowed me to hear the woman, the suggestion for her to wave down a cop, and then the cop. Sometimes a sequence of events can leave you speechless, but wondering. And because it’s greater than you can comprehend, you just have to stop and marvel at the unexplainable.
Copyright Ros Hill 2016