Every morning I drove past her house on my way to work, and again in the afternoon on my way home. In winter, her front door usually stood open to let in the sun. In spring or fall I’d often see her sitting on her stoop, gathering light.
I should stop, I thought, wanting to say hello.
She was gray-haired and rarely seemed to have visitors in a time of extraordinary loneliness. But what would I say?
“Hello, I often drive by. I just wanted to introduce myself.”
I didn’t want to scare her. Or impose. And what would I say next? My imaginary conversations never went that far. But I often wondered.
Recently, I drove past her house again – this time with a friend.
“I’ve always wondered who lives there,” I said, pointing.
“She died a few weeks ago,” he said.
I was too stunned to ask her name or how he knew her.
But every day now when I drive by her home with its shut door and empty stoop, I regret that I didn’t stop.
Of all the opportunities I’ve missed in life, the ones I regret the most are those when I’ve had the opportunity to respond to someone else’s need with love and didn’t – whether from a fear of being rejected or from being in too much of a hurry or from being unsure of the outcome.
Love, on which all meaningful relationships are based, takes risks. It stops and says “Hello” instead of speeding past. It takes the time to listen instead of insisting on controlling what happens next.
Time is something so few of us seem able to spare these days in our hyper-fast world of high-speed internet and drive-thru service and drop-off deliveries. From my rural house six-miles from town, I can order nearly any product I want and have it delivered to my door within 48 hours without ever speaking with another human being.
But is this really the world in which we want to live? Or the one we want to give to our children?
“If the devil can’t make you bad,” a wise soul once observed, “he’ll make you busy.”
I’m as busy as anyone – a word I detest. So this summer, as another school year comes to a close, I am taking a short sabbatical from writing this column to focus on my family, to finish my graduate degree, and to deepen my faith. Because with all that life demands of me, I don’t want to miss the people sitting right in front of me.
In many ways the world has never felt less secure: the ongoing pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the fragmentation of our country, and the evil that this week gunned down a classroom of school children and their two teachers in Texas. For me, these are signals to slow down, to spend more time in prayer and more time with people so that perhaps the next time I feel the urge to stop and ask someone how they are doing, I will.
Of all the things we spend our lives trying to obtain, only three are guaranteed to last, the apostle Paul long ago wrote: faith, hope and love (I Corinthians 13:13, NLT).
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes from a little house in the big woods of Midcoast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book The Best Birthday and four other books celebrating the holidays with activities that build children’s faith. Connect at www.meadowrue.com