Whenever it happens that God brings me close to a stranger, I ask Him to bring love between us, just in case, through their long journey, love has suffered. And so it happened, just a few days ago….
Setting: Driving west on Alternate Route 412, in the heart of Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma. Call me contrarian; I choose alternative routes in life. The Cherokee Turnpike seemed too sterile, and I didn’t care how slow the car crawled in front of me. With gas low and a long stretch of nothing ahead, I pulled over to fill up. While I put the nozzle into the tank, I looked over and saw an older woman in a cloud of smoke, sitting in the passenger side of a beaten down Ford pick up. I don’t know why, but I walked over and stood by the window, which was cracked about an inch.
“Hello,” I said. “You having a good day?”
The window slid down another inch.
“Yes, thank you,” she replied.
Close enough now, I observed she was Native American, her deep brown skin weathered, her cheeks deeply furrowed. In her mouth dangled a cigarette, burned to the filter, giving off a final spiral of cloud. Her wistful smile curled around the smoke.
“I like your car,” she said.
“Oh, it’s just a rental, I’m heading over to Tulsa.” For some reason I needed her to know the car wasn’t mine.
The window slid further down.
“It’s nice,” she said.
Then silence. She kept looking at me, and I smiled at her, whose face, if it could speak, would tell a thousand stories, each strand of beautiful wrinkled skin explaining itself. Then I reached into the window with my hand.
She took it.
In that infinitesimal moment of a hand shake, in the noticeable willingness to clasp, and then not-want-to-release-moment that our humanity touched, I asked God to bring hope, to help her heart dance in memory of a perfect stranger’s moment of interest in her. I asked Him to lift those dark brown eyes beyond the Ford, beyond the endless prairie, with it’s occasional dilapidated structure, the too frequent signs in cars that would rust before they sold, into that boundless Oklahoma sky, to rest upon the eyes of her Savior, who in that moment was being asked by me to woo Anita’s heart.
This is my idea of love, ‘just for the pure sake of another’s presence;’ the rarest element in the universe. No false pretenses. No manipulation of words to steer a conversation toward a desired end. Just one timorous human being, reaching a hand through a window at a Phillips 66 station, off a lonely stretch of highway in Cherokee Nation. Taking a risk, and discovering that another has taken an even bigger one.
“Bless you, Anita.”
“Bless you,” she whispered.
When I turned I knew that in that briefest of all exchanges God had been present. For it occurred to me, that whatever blessing I might have brought to Anita, a more profound one came back to me. I felt love for a perfect stranger, not pity, not because I saw her poverty, but because I saw my own. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Will the stranger’s ‘window’ always roll down? No. But will I initiate? Yes. Because risking rejection has reward beyond this world’s calculus. Because, if Jesus is to become a living force of love, I must humble myself, find places where I take the alternate route, slow down enough to see the eyes of a person watching me, turn and smile, then offer a simple handshake. In doing so, I may never know how much love God brings to a heart, that perhaps on the journey, has given up that love could be found again.