For the Woman at the Rental Car Facility

Today, a small tribute to a woman I saw at the Albuquerque rental car facility.

The facility had fake ficus trees and that sterile, impersonal feel most public places made for passing through have. I stood next to my father, who leaned against the counter returning our car. A little girl figuring out how her legs worked tottered around him, her mother close behind.

A man and woman in their forties got into line behind us. He was tall. She was wrapping and rewrapping a concrete-colored cardigan around herself.

My father re-leaned against the counter as the rental car agent typed on and on.

The little girl, who had tottered away, tottered back and wove in between the man and woman. Almost immediately, the woman stepped out of line. She might have looked at the man or she might have just left, I never saw.

What I saw was her walk to an empty chair in an empty seating area. She sat. And her eyes, her cheeks, her mouth all squeezed in as she began to cry. A silent, broken-hearted cry that was so private in this public place.

Did you lose your little girl? I wondered. Is it that you can’t have children? Did your son get a cancer diagnosis?

I wanted to go to her, sit with her, offer up my hands to hold some of her grief. But there was a guardedness to her. She was not asking to be seen. This was a raw and private pain that had broken loose in public.

So, I don’t know what hurt lived in her. What sharp-edged truths were ripping her up inside.

My father finished at the counter. We walked out of the rental car facility, flew out of Albuquerque, likely to never see this woman again.

But I have a tribute, a small, small tribute to her: I will keep her with me when I’m about to get pissed at a guy for rushing ahead of me during the plane boarding process. Or judging a woman who’s screaming into her phone on the park bench next to me.

I will keep her with me to remind me that there’s a vast and unknowable canyon between the life I see on the outside and the life I don’t on the inside.

And on my better days, I will try to fill that canyon with compassion. To remember that most among us are only inches from the cry of the broken-hearted.

This will be my tribute to her.

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