I was driving home from delivering my best friend to the airport. She had visited for 10 days, but it was finally time for her to fly home. Somehow, sitting in her physical absence on that drive home brought me oddly closer to her. Surprisingly closer to all that is. Everything simply felt more alive, much like when a loved one has died and the veil becomes so very thin. The grass was greener. The air was warmer, yet the breeze somehow cooler as if a little fairy was fluttering within the pockets of wind.
I almost felt guilty. I should be more sad. I should be crying, bawling, uncontrollable anguish in the wake of her departure. But the truth was, I was not. The truth was, I was rather blissed out. A very specific kind of bliss, when the borders of the world feel not to even exist and reality is more like a dream than a fixed location. I recognized this feeling. I had felt it from my first love, a dog named Sheila. I feared her death with my entire being and yet when she passed, somehow she felt more present with me than ever before. And years later, the death of a dear friend brought colors to my world that I did not know existed. The sky more blue, the grass more green, my fear of the unknown more exposed, the light just pouring in. And then, only a month ago when our precious golden pony passed, the grief that flowed through me was so deep, so rich with love, that all I could feel was the beauty.
Truly. This felt like a death, this simple delivery of my dear soul sister to the airport. And thank goodness it was not actually a death – she is in fact very alive and wildly well – But the experience of it, the richness of it. I can compare it to no thing less. Ten days with a soul mirror that dances in the rain and sprouts tears of love at the sight of every being I hold dear. Well, the depth of such a reflection is rather profound. Yet somehow life in her physical absence, only more deeply revealed her truest presence.
I soaked in every breath as I drove the three hours back home. Almost in a trance, yet reminding myself to pay attention to the solid things, not to become lost in the spaces in between. I mean, I was driving. Thankfully I was paying attention, at least somewhat because I did see a solid thing. Somewhat solid anyway, a human being. He appeared in the corner of my right eye, walking on the shoulder of the road and a parked car was abandoned just behind him. One would think I would have seen the car as I was approaching it, the road ahead was long and straight. But if it was there, as it must have been, I never noticed it. Not until I was already passing it and passing the person walking in front of it – a Black man.
Now, I do not stop everytime I see a stranger on the side of the road. Sometimes it does not feel right. Sometimes it feels entirely wrong. And one might think I would have felt into this situation – Is it really right to stop? Is this safe? What does my intuition tell me to do? But it all happened much too fast and the truth is, I felt nothing at all. Other than the feeling of my hands turning the steering wheel and my foot on the brake, pulling over.
Careful to not run him over, I pulled into the grass on the side of the road just up ahead. I opened the door just enough to squeeze out, keeping close to the car as I carefully maneuvered myself to the other side and away from the road.
Cars whipped by us, blasting hot air on our sides as we walked towards one another. Once close enough, he met me with a smile that revealed three sparkling white front teeth.
He held up his phone and said, “I just need to get to my wife. My phone won’t get a signal here. I blew a tire. My house is just up the road a ways. I just need to get to my wife. It’s just a few miles up the road. I just need to get to my wife.”
The sun was blazing down and beads of sweat sparkled across his dark skin. His back was slightly rounded and lines etched into his face. His eyes were the color of old gold, with a humble kindness that poured out and directly into me. I did not care how far he needed to be driven. All I knew was that I wanted to be the one to drive him there. I wanted to crank the air full blast in the car and open the door and invite him in. And I wanted to do it right now. I did not need him to convince me. I did not want him to sweat one more moment. I had been sold the instant I caught him out of the corner of my eye, and his own eyes had only confirmed what I already knew to be true. He might as well have been Jesus, in fact, in my eyes. He was. I was practically aching to help him home. To have that opportunity. Yes, of course YES, I will take you home to your wife.
But all that I could form into words was, “I trust you.”
As if maybe I might not, or maybe I should not. As if I might not have picked up Jesus and carried him home to his wife. As if I might have said no.
It felt a bit silly to have said it so bluntly, “I trust you.” I mean, why not say “Yes, I will take you home.”
I think the words were more a proclamation to my own self, an inner need to say it out loud, words that some pattern deeply embedded in my belief system seemed to somehow deeply disagree with. Everything in my knowing trusted him. Everything. I think I just wanted my ancient imprints to hear it. Out loud.
I Trust You.
The stranger on the side of the road. The Black man. In the deep south.
I Trust You.
This white woman, every bit of 5 foot 2 inches tall and 110 pounds soaking wet. This white woman that is driving her car home. Alone.
I Trust You.
After those three words spilled out, I immediately opened the door to the passenger side of the car. Slipping the seat back as far as it would go, making room for his legs and clearing the space from my rather untidy stuff that tends to overflow, everywhere. I cranked up the A/C and remembered that I had an unopened bottle of Kombucha in the cooler. I handed it to him and then immediately second guessed myself and said “Oh it is not alcohol. It does look like some kind of beer or something. I mean it is fermented, but not alcohol. … It’s good for your gut.”
Oh. My. God. … the inner dialogue poured into my ears like a wild woman.
To Myself (Thank God, this was all silently to myself) – “Why did you bring up alcohol? What? Do you subconsciously think he is a drunk or something? It’s because he is Black isn’t it? You think he is a drunk because he is a Black man with three teeth on the side of the road. You really think that. I know you do. In your subconscious. That’s why you said it. You cannot get past your own inner judgements. Projections. Assumptions. This man is so kind. Didn’t you see his eyes? He is freaking Jesus inside and you are over here judging him for being a drunk. And what if he was a drunk? You used to be a drunk. Drunks are people too. But he is totally not … how could you …”
Me – “No, no, no I so do not think that. He is so kind. And I know, I cannot believe I brought up alcohol. I was just thinking that, well Kumbucha does look like a beer, I mean this one in particular did, a brown glass bottle and everything. And well, after I handed it to him I realized he might not know what it was. I mean, he probably does not drink Kumbucha…”
To Myself – “Oh no you didn’t. Just. Say. That. Geez, let’s see how shallow we can get here … So, let me make sure I get this right … You think he doesn’t know what Kumbucha is. Because he’s a Black man. In the south, poor old Black men don’t know about your fancy Kumbucha do they? That’s only for enlightened folks like You, huh? Yeah, all those Spiritual, All is One folks. One Love. One Heart. One big ole happy family, where everyone is all nice and loved and cared for and they all drink Kumbucha. Except for of course this Black man. He would not know about all this would he? He would only see your fancy Kumbucha and think it was alcohol. … and then you’re gonna tell him it is good for his gut. My God.”
Me – “Oh God. Let me just be quiet. You are so right. No more words. “
With that I spoke out loud to him, “I am so sorry. I am just going to drive and wait for you to tell me where to go.”
He guided me so carefully, telling me just which mailbox to look for and then his driveway would be the one just after that. Then, he said “You can just let me out at the road. I can walk the rest of the way.”
The words just blurted out of my mouth, “Oh no, I can’t do that. I want to drive you all the way.”, though quickly realizing that maybe he did not want me to and so I back pedaled a bit to say that I would of course let him out here if he wanted. But if it was ok with him, I would be honored to drive him all the way in.
He said, “Ok, sure. Yes you can” and it really did feel like he meant it. It had seemed that he was trying to make this as easy on me as possible and that was why he had suggested that I drop him off by the road. He then directed me down a little gravel drive, past one single wide trailer and down to another one that was tucked in behind some very neatly trimmed hedges.
Once we arrived he pointed to his wife’s car under the shelter. Obviously, happy to see she was home. He then asked me if I wanted to meet her, and it truly felt like he really wanted me to. Not forced in the slightest way. Of course, I said yes! We both stepped out of the car and I followed him around back to where she was mowing grass. I immediately felt bad though, because she started apologizing for her sweaty, messiness as soon as she saw me. All I could think of was how I saw nothing that even somewhat looked messy and I tried to tell her that it was I that had shown up, unannounced into her space and there was nothing to apologize for and plus, “You are beautiful” I said. But I do not think I convinced her of anything.
Her husband explained what had happened and that I had driven him home and she shot him a hard look, and said “You best be glad somebody picked your self up.” There was an emphasis on ‘Your Self’ that felt tainted with this ingrown shame, almost like a criticism. He nodded his head in complete acknowledgement. Almost as if he had done something wrong, simply by being his own ‘your self’.
I felt like a puddle. A puddle of both sadness for the projections of this world, grief for my own confusion inside of how to really help and more than anything, I felt like a puddle in the face of his complete humility.
He immediately shifted to my needs, asking me where I was headed and going to great lengths to describe to me, mailbox by mailbox exactly where I needed to turn to get back out on the road and the rest of the way home. As if there was no such thing as a GPS, as if there was no such thing as a child that was not his own. As if I were his. Tucked under his wing. Yes Jesus loves me. All the little children of the world. Totally Jesus.
I had to resist the urge to hug him non-stop.
As we walked back to the car he asked me where I worked, I tried to explain, which is often not such an easy thing. To explain the wellness programs, the herd, the non-profit, but it dawned on me that we were only a few miles from one of the middle schools I travel to. I told him that we bring the horses and support kids there, in hopes of helping them get through school and well, life. He and his wife knew exactly the middle school I was referring to and his wife said she attended there, many years ago when it first opened. And then he told me that he was retired, but that he worked as a custodian for a school right down the road. This little thread of connection seemed to weave us all together in some tangible way. And it felt good, like some sort of relief that there was this place where we all could meet. We all had gone to the school. A student from many years ago, a custodian, a lady that brings horses. It was a stretch, but not really. We all seemed to recognize that space where we met in between.
He walked beside the car, as I backed into the neighbor’s drive to turn around. Offering suggestions the entire way, of how I could get turned around in the easiest way possible. And then finally, once pointed out towards the road again, I knew it was time for me to leave. Though a huge part of me just wanted to stay. To ask him a million questions about his life. What was it like for him, as a Black man? Did he know he was really Jesus?
… thankfully my little voice inside stopped me …. “oh God Mary, don’t say anything out loud right now. You know how it went giving him that Kumbucha, u’hum the ‘not alcohol’. Do not tell this man he is Jesus. You are totally going to freak him out. He is just a normal, wonderful, amazing man. He happens to be Black. You have no idea the struggles he has faced and still faces and it is not his job to explain them to you. You struggle with it too, deeply you do because they are your struggles too. Not that you are effected by them, like he is, but they are in you, projections you have been told from so young that it seems a part of you. But you are not your story, just as he is not his.
Putting someone on a pedestal is no different than putting someone down. It separates you from them. This man is not separate from you, and in this moment he feels that truth, just as you are feeling it too. Now, it is his turn. Let him speak.
Don’t say anything. Just let him tell you the way out. That is his way of saying thank you. Let him help you, like he let you help him. That is all you both need to do.”
He went through every turn by turn again. “Take a right and drive 3 miles and then turn on Shell Corner road. Then another right and you will see the town a few miles on down the road. You should recognize it then.” I listened deeply to every detail he said. Soaking him in.
As we waved goodbye, I noticed he was holding the Kumbucha in his hand.
It did not seem to matter anymore if this was his first Kumbucha or if he had a whole case in his refrigerator. It was simply a gesture. One small thing I had to offer. It might not have been perfect, maybe he was not always perfect either. But in that moment, I was less concerned with either of our imperfections and more in awe of how deeply I loved that Black man. Jesus or not. I loved him.
Though, I’m still pretty sure he was Jesus. Or if not, then he must have been God. Oh wait, same thing.
Or maybe he was just human. Oh wait, same thing.
One thought on “I picked up Jesus on the side of the road …”
I absolutely love this story. I wish I could meet you in person. I have been following you on Facebook for several years. Today I watched your Mustang Makeover video for the first time. It is beautiful.
I have much more to tell/ask you.
Elsa Johnson Wahl