Monday, May 21, 2007

Imagine All the People

Today I was driving alone somewhere, an occurence that doesn't really happen all that often these days.

As I toodled along, I noticed a woman, her back to me, walking along the sidewalk. She was a tall, broad shouldered woman in a long shell-pink sweater, black skirt, and black boots. In her right hand, she clutched a logo-less brown paper bag. She had hair that was unremarkable in cut and color. And although she walked with purpose, her shoulders were bent. I never saw her face, but I knew she was no longer young.

I glimpsed her for a total of perhaps five seconds.

Yet, my mind could not help but wonder, who was she? Where was she walking? What was in the bag?

And I began to construct in my mind the story of this woman and her stooped shoulders. She was walking back from the drugstore to the motel nearby. Her husband was sick, needed medicine, but he was the only one able to drive. She had long ago let her license lapse. So, out she went in an unfamiliar city. Even though she had been up and worrying about him most of the night, she gathered her strength to make the two mile or so walk to the nearest place she could get him something she hoped would feel better.

I had caught her in the moment she was just starting to feel winded from the walking, and she realized with regret that the boots she wore were not necessarily the correct ones for walking long distances. But, she knew her husband needed that precious medicine, and she pushed through her discomfort and aching legs to get back to him.

All that, I deduced made up after only seeing her for five seconds.

It reminded me of the time when you could actually hang out in an airport while waiting for your loved ones to arrive, and I would make up similar stories about people that interested me. That lady anxiously peering at the departure screen was a mother who was going to visit her son who was getting married. The man lolling on the chair zoning out to his headphones was headed back East to start a different life, escaping the one he had made for himself back home.

For all I know, the woman was an alcoholic who had beer in the bag. Or maybe something for her grandchild. It didn't even matter that the nearest store was closer than two miles. The possibilities, in my mind, were endless.

But no matter her real story, the woman in that long pink cardigan managed to take me out of myself for a while, to imagine a life being led by someone other than myself or someone I know. I don't know if it has anything to do with my illness/condition being recently remedied, but it has been longer than I can remember since I have been able to focus on more than just getting through the day. Where I could actually go on a flight of fancy instead of being instantly pulled rudely back to earth.

And even though she has no idea what her errand sparked in me, I thank her.

But really, I hope that bag didn't contain any beer.

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