Rebecca Longbow is a writer of poetry, short fiction, and creative non-fiction. Her name has been changed to protect her privacy.
She said it was seven years ago. She said she never told me, but she never forgot how helpless I seemed. I’m going through a divorce right now. When I told a lady I’ve recently gotten to know again, she recounted seeing me struggle in my marriage. I never knew anyone noticed. No one said a word. I always felt so alone in this struggle. When she told me, I was touched that she remembered. I was touched she cared back then. She told me that one day it was raining heavily. She said my family drove up in a car. My then husband quickly ran in from the rain, leaving me to struggle with an infant in a car seat, a toddler, and a son with sensory issues all alone. She said she couldn’t believe my husband would be so insensitive. When she first told me, I was touched that she remembered that it happened. I was touched that she cared. Later that night though, my emotions changed to sadness tinged with anger. She saw. She was mad at my husband. She couldn’t believe he would let me struggle alone. And then she also let me struggle alone. She did not come over and offer to help carry the diaper bag or hold an umbrella. In 7 years, she never told me that she noticed I was struggling. She never said, “I thought of you today and I wanted you to know I care about you.” A smile and helping hand would have meant the world to me that day. I’ve found that is the silence of most in churches that I know. They say, “I can’t believe you waited this long to leave him.” Yes, I waited. You know why? Because I assumed people either couldn’t see me or all or could see but agreed with how he treated me. No one spoke up. No one told me I didn’t have to live like this. No one told me I was worthwhile. They just watched as he tore me down. They told me that I didn’t smile enough. They made comments about how I ought to volunteer more. I’m sure there were good intentions like, “not meddling in a marriage.” But there is a broad path between “not meddling” and being that person to help me in the rain. I wasn’t worth getting wet for. My children were not worth it to her. Sometimes I don’t know if I embrace a god. But when I think of what I believe, I believe in grace. I believe in forgiveness. I believe in my struggle to forgive all those who turned their heads. I believe in helping hands. I believe in smiles. I believe in extending grace to parents and others, in grocery stores and parking lots and on airplanes. I’ve learned to be the helper this lady was not to me for those seven years. And I always will. I can never forget her story. And for all the people like me in the world, I want to be there even if just with a sympathetic smile and a kind word. I think that is part of what draws me to the students I teach in an alternative school. They are the ones others turn from, the teens who show up on the news and in the jail. If I have a religion, it’s the religion of “do not turn away.” I will not turn my face and choose silence over love. My love may not change a life. But even if I’m just the little thought that “someone seems to care about me,” I will have lived a life of meaning. For me, for now, that is my religion. To care beyond limits. If I ever learn how to do that completely, then I may pursue exactly who I should address if I pray. For now, I try to live prayers of kindness out loud. That feels more real than the many petitions I used to utter. I’m not against the saying of prayers. I’m just trying to find more balance in my life, more living on intentions than praying them. And, as hurt as I was at first, I’m really glad my friend told me about how she noticed my plight that day in the rain. I’ve learned from her experience in ways I might not have if she had simply helped me that day, instead of telling me years later. The lesson to help others is now firmly cemented in my mind.