JOYce

Today, I was lucky enough to meet a lovely, elderly woman named Joyce. I was doing the same thing I did every day; absent mindedly driving home for lunch after my morning work routine was finished. I was a few miles from my house when, ahead of me on the shoulder, I noticed a small, fragile woman, in a white dress. A white crochteed shawl covered her shoulders in an attempt to escape the unpredictable chill of the late October mountain winds. There was a raggedy blue backpack secured across her hunched shoulders. She struggled to pull a set of unmatched, rolling suitcases along the side of the roadway. As I passed by, like so many other drivers, I watched her large bags collide and topple, nearly taking the woman with them. I continued driving like so many others because I needed to get home, feed the cat, eat breakfast, and watch a bit of TV before heading back to work. I needed this break halfway through my day, I had Mercedes Benz owners complaining their HED headlights didn’t seem even, or their heated seats needed adjusting before they headed to their winter resorts. You know, the bare necessities. Without even thinking, I made a U-turn. I slowed when I was close enough to realize the woman was once again struggling to upright her suitcases. As I pulled onto the gravel shoulder behind her, she looked up. I feared I’d frighten her but I was met with a beautiful smile of relief and gratitude. I rolled down my window and her kind eyes greeted mine. I asked her if she needed a ride and she said, "Yes, to Port Jervis or as far as I can get". I paused. Port Jervis was about an hour round-trip and getting back to work caused me to vacillate. My hesitations were short-lived and I hopped out and opened my trunk. When I lifted her first suitcase, I joked, "What do you have rocks in here?" She let out a laugh so infectious it will stay with me forever. Beautiful as it was, the sad truth was in the next thing she said. "These is all my earthly possessions, sweet man. Keepsakes, photos, everything, is in these three bags." I realized this woman was homeless, only managing to let out an "oh". I continued loading her belongings into my trunk. She smiled, oblivious to the lump in my throat. Joyce went to climb in the back-seat but I opened the passenger door and bowed like a chauffeur. She obliged and although I saw her falter, she called me silly and giggled. We drove. "So Joyce, what's your story?" She went on to tell me she was on her way to a loved one’s funeral, she’d use the 50 dollars she started with the Lord allowed and planned to walk as far as her legs would take her. I asked about her family. No family, just distant folk, husband died in Vietnam at 20.”Bless his soul” was all she said on that matter and then she asked about me. I told her I was a single guy in my thirties with a decent job. I was happy because to feel any different was to be a spoiled brat. Together, we admired the last remnants of fall and the harsh debut of winter. We talked about our love of reading and writing, and how we didn’t care much for arithmetic and what was a 401k anyway? We bemoaned paying taxes for the numerous construction workers we observed leaning on shovels. I didn’t think about my job or my cat or even my sweetheart. If I’d ever lived in the moment – it was at that very moment. We grew quiet for a spell and I started to wonder. This woman, who had her life in three bags, was about to walk 20 miles to say goodbye to a dear friend and still wore grace and dignity like a second skin. I wanted to ask her her secret. How she did it, got up every morning to so little with a smile? Joyce was a strong and brave woman and I found myself envying her fortitude . We finally made it to her stop: a bench in front of a library just a few miles from an old friend who worked at the library and agreed to let Joyce stay a spell with her. I helped her with her bags and then instinctively reached into my wallet, handing her 35 dollars, which was all I had. She looked at me as her rich, watery brown eyes betrayed when a lone tear that ran down her cheek. She reached out to shake my hand, a gesture of gratitude but instead, I felt compelled to embrace her. As we hugged, I whispered in her ear, "Thank you, Joyce." I left Joyce on the bench that day, surrounded by everything she owned in the world, and she seemed content to just be. I slowly drove off and she waved. She wore that same contagious smile from ear to ear and she possessed a shining in her eyes that I envied but I knew was only earned. You're beautiful Joyce and the world needs more people like you. Okay, back to work. Some guys wiper blade is slightly bent in his $100,000 G-wagon and it smudges when it rains.

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