“My own eyes are not enough for me; I will see through those of others.”—C.S. Lewis
“Lend me your eyes, I can change what you see . . .”—Mumford & Sons
On one of those rare sunny days in the middle of a Michigan winter, light and warmth hinted at spring but failed to break through the deep chill that would persist for another few months. The road was covered in muddy slush, undoing my earlier efforts at the car wash. I came around a bend in the road and swerved to keep from hitting a slumped figure on the side of the road—a woman, bundled in layers of sweaters and t-shirts, hands clasped around a grocery bag. She held out her thumb, a silent plea for a ride. Our eyes met as my car swished past her and, without my conscious intent, my foot eased down on the breaks. I pulled onto the narrow shoulder of the road and waited for the woman to shuffle closer. My thoughts raced. What am I doing? A hitchhiker? Really? Not your greatest idea, Lane.
The woman approached the passenger-side window and I motioned for her to open the door. I’ve always wondered how I’d die. Is this how it happens? She pulled the handle and ducked into the car, closed the door and fumbled for the seatbelt as she spoke through cold, chapped lips. “Think I could maybe get a ride to the dollar store?”
“Sure thing.” I smiled and waited for the snap of the seat belt. I offered my name and she gave me hers in return: Deborah.
“Jus’ call me Debbie, I guess.”
The car filled with a stench I hadn’t experienced since I was about eight years old, the day a man stumbled into my family’s living room, drunk and mumbling incoherent demands: stale cigarette smoke, booze, and something else disturbingly human that only emerges after weeks without a bath or clean laundry. Not being well-practiced in the art of picking up hitchhikers, I wondered what amount of conversation would be considered appropriate. Since there wasn’t time to check wikiHow, I ventured a question. “How long have you been walking this morning?”
“Only ‘bout fifteen minutes. My car broke down last month and I been walking pretty much everywhere.”
So it began. The car pulled onto the highway and Debbie proceeded to share pieces of her story. She hardly took a breath in the fifteen minutes we were together. She lived in a lake house, she told me, that she had inherited from her deceased father. Her children had disowned her. She hadn’t seen her grandchildren in months. None of her family would speak to her. The reasons for her isolation were many and she offered a rambling explanation as we made our way north on MI-37, toward the Newaygo dollar store.
The white lines in the parking lot were barely visible under the salt-punctured ice. When I put the car in park, Debbie cut her story short and restlessly shifted the plastic bag in her lap.
“Well, I sure do thank you for the ride. It’s a heck’a lot better’n walkin’, I know that.” She turned and our eyes caught as they had when I’d nearly passed her on the road. Hers were green. “You can give me a ride anytime, Miz Barbara.”
I assured her I’d be happy to give her a ride if I happened to see her again. She climbed out of the car and closed the door, offered a weary wave of her arm as she stood in the cold and met my eyes once again before she disappeared into the fluorescent-lit dollar store. Her smell lingered in the car as I pulled back onto the highway.
I haven’t seen Debbie since that day, but I still see the color of her eyes in the wintered pine trees of New Mexico and in the painted stainless steel casing of the Hydroflask (gifted to me by my Rabbit Room Secret Santa) that holds my morning coffee. “The story of any one of us,” Buechner tells us, “is in some measure the story of us all.” Those brief moments when my gaze captured Debbie’s, or hers enveloped mine, there was the closing of a circle, a meeting of our two very different stories to discover the grace of sameness.
The eyes are windows into the soul. We know this. Yet how often do we take the time to gaze into, or even notice, the eyes of another? There was something in Debbie’s eyes, or something behind them—a story, further reaching than I, or she, could ever articulate. Her eyes held a story that was, in all its mundane detail, eternally significant; a story that holds the power to transform my own vision.