|photo by nimbustheodora via flickr|
She was young but her spirit had already walked many, many miles. Her voice was rough, her eyes were tired, her body dragged. I saw her in the hallway after she brought her little girl to school and before she headed back to the projects where she and her three children lived. It was November in Raleigh, North Carolina, 1997.
“G’morning, Tina,” I said to her with a gentle smile.
She looked up at me with a softness I hadn’t seen from her before, as if she needed kindness so badly, as if without it, she didn’t know how she would make it through her day.
I reached out to touch her arm, to give it a little squeeze. “I don’t have anyone in my office right now,” I said. “If you have time, I’d love to talk to you.”
She nodded and swallowed hard, trying her best to hold back tears.
I moved my hand to hers and held it tightly as we walked back to my office. “It’s gonna be alright," I whispered. "It’s all gonna be alright.”
She told me her story that day, a story of hope and disappointment, abuse and tragedy, love and loss.
“I apply for jobs when the kids are in school but preschool is only a few hours and I need a job to pay for childcare, but I need childcare to have a job. I am so tired, Miss Brynne, so tired. And it feels like no one cares a thing. I go to the store and no one looks me in the eye, no one pays me any mind. It’s like I’m invisible, something no one wants to see. I might not’a gone to college, but I ain’t bad. I love my children just like the other lady does, I just didn’t never get any help. I been doing it all on my own since I was fourteen.”
We talked for a long while that day and lit a few candles in that heart of hers to lighten up the darkest places. Tina cried and she cried and she cried. And I listened and held her, hard, the best way I knew how.
A few weeks later, it was nearing Thanksgiving. I knew Tina and her family wouldn’t have much but I didn’t say a thing. Until one day, the last day of school before the holiday break, I had to.
“Tina?” I said to her, after she watched her little girl run into the classroom to play with friends. “I have something for you,” and I motioned for her to come with me.
As we walked to my car, I told Tina a story about an old lady who had a lot of money. I told her how the old lady was angry and hurt because no one cared, and no one needed her, not even her money. But after a while, that old lady realized that for people to care about her maybe she needed to start caring herself, first. Maybe if she gave, maybe if she smiled, maybe if she looked someone straight in the eye with kindness from her heart, maybe then, what she needed herself would be returned.
Tina listened and smiled to herself, thinking as we walked.
“So this old lady,” I said, “she knew I worked in the projects and decided that she’d try giving right away. So she gave me some money and told me what to buy.” I opened the trunk of my car.
Tina looked in at a turkey and all the fixings for a Thanksgiving feast. She covered her mouth and her eyes filled with tears. “For me?” she said. “Really? For me and my babies? Well, I never—”
My own eyes started welling up, too. “She asked me to give all this to someone who was in danger of thinking no one cared. And for me to tell you she did. She didn’t want any thanks, she just wanted you to not stop believing that the world is a good and kind place. For it is, Tina. It is.”
We hugged that day in the cold, dirty parking lot of Raleigh’s toughest neighborhood. Around us there was anger and ugly, but the two of us, together we were our own little island. And that was all that mattered. That, and that Tina never felt indebted to me for buying her Thanksgiving dinner that year.
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Happy Thanksgiving, dear Reader, your heart is mine, too.