By Cherimie Crane Weatherford
It occurred to me recently that some of life’s most important interactions are often found tucked sweetly in the layers of the most nonessential of relationship. Solace can be found in accidental acquaintance and comfort in casual conference. Small towns master the nonessential relationships if only by sheer logistics. It is impossible not to become familiar with those traveling the same path, the same route and often the same
grocery schedule. It can be a simple nod, a passing smile, an empathetic glance from a not-so-strange stranger that gives way to a sense of familiarity, peace and comfort. Words become unnecessary as the foundation of the accidental acquaintance is freedom from obligation. Just as a weathered landmark signals lessened distance homeward bound, nonessential relationships become signals of their own.
Having the morning awareness of a blind rabbit, it is stunning that I notice a young lady walking almost daily. Often rushing from one task to another, I barely notice date or time. This young lady always caught my eye for no discernible reason. Daily our paths intertwine providing a certain flow to my all-too-rushed schedule. Occasionally, my mind wanders from to-do list lethargy to imagining her point of focus. Eyes straight ahead and purposeful gait, rhythmic pace, obviously she meant business.
By chance and convenience, last week I headed to my little boutique to make certain the world of women’s clothing was turning as it should when the morning sky opened and saturated all God’s creatures great and small. One of those downpours where one can’t help but feel as though Mother Nature is making a point. Fortunately, I found entry prior to falling prey to an impressive soak and unimpressive hair do. Turning on lights and doing all those things rote, I heard a knock.
Standing amidst Mother Nature’s hissy fit was the young lady I often see walking the busy street. Her focus familiar, her stature recognizable and her clothing soaked to the core. Unlocking my door and barely having a chance to speak, she quickly announced her intentions to purchase a new pair of shoes and pants. The clothing she had on was so drenched that it left a puddle at my door.
All things Southern kicked in and I quickly offered her towels. She explained that she was heading to school when the bottom fell out and just needed to get something dry to wear as she had classes the entire day. It hit me. All those days that I was complaining about this or that, rushing through my nonessential tasks from the comfort of my air-conditioned car, she was walking to school. The hottest of hot days, the rainy days, the days that my biggest complaint was a seemingly long traffic light. She was walking to school, not just one block, not even five. She walks down busy Boundary Street to attend University of South Carolina Beaufort. It is no short distance.
Often described as hard-nosed, frequently referred to as difficult and never being accused of being a socialite, my bark can sometimes be worse than my bite. (Unless you take my coffee, then my bite is horrendous.) There is something about a determined woman that awakens all that is good. She made her way to the counter to pay for a new pair of shoes and a dry pair of jeans. No Ma’am, I said. Not today. She tried once more to pay, saying she didn’t mean to get anything for free. I saw an entire generation in her and wondered if her Mom would ever find out about this. How proud must she be of such a determined, prideful young lady.
Day in and day out, I hear (and even speak) excuse after excuse about not marching forth toward a goal. Complaints that should never be are as customary as true grit is rare. This young lady walks to school everyday, never stopping to ask for a ride, never swaying her gaze. Head up, eyes forward. How small I felt in her presence.
I gave her a brand new pair of boots and a wonderful pair of jeans. After a short conversation, she thanked me and headed for the door. Somehow I looked at her and saw everything I wanted to be, much that I already am, and what I want for my daughter. It matters less where she had been but more where she was going. Her determination and refusal to let even Mother Nature slow her direction is rare and inspirational. My request to her was simple. I asked her to go out and change the world, knowing full well, she already has. She walks to school, further than most walk in a week, and she does so with a smile.
Maybe those nonessential relationships aren’t so nonessential after all.