2003-02-06 - 5:26 p.m.

Yesterday as I was driving down one of my favorite streets in the world, nestled alongside a small college campus, made of bricks that make a happy churning sound beneath my tires, I passed a woman who was laden with stacks of papers. I smiled apologetically at her because it was an unfortunate day to be walking and there was little room for my car because the snow had pushed to the edges of the road, making it smaller so that I had only a little space in which to move over so I wouldn’t splash her with sloshy salt laden snow mush, she had smiled back at me and just as I passed I saw an envelope fall from her pile. I looked in the mirror to see if she had noticed but in that elapsed second from the time I passed her and then could find her in the rear view mirror I lost that knowledge...I saw her walking steadfastly forward and I had no idea whether she had caught the envelope or if it still remained there on the uneven ridges of the red brick road covered in gray snow slop.

I thought, “I should turn around, catch her, tell her an envelope fell,” but just at that second a garbage truck pulled out and stopped across the road, blocking me from going forward to find a spot to turn around. By the time the molasses seconds had passed and he had moved his truck back into the drive, she had disappeared. I suppose I could have driven around a little, searching her out in the late gray afternoon whose sunlight squelched through the heavy woolen blanket of cloud cover only long enough to make the heart leap for a moment and then retreat as the blanket was pulled over the sun’s ears tightly. But I didn’t...I continued on, wondering what could possibly be in that envelope, whose life I may have irrevocably changed by not turning around and telling her. There are so many could have been something mundane, like a bill that she will not remember to pay now and will have to pay late charges for next month...or it could have been something paramount like a letter received from a long lost daughter. Or maybe I did something good by not turning around, perhaps that envelope contained some heated and angry letter from a disgruntled student (I had assumed she was a professor at the college) that would make her doubt her abilities, make her feel bad, kindle feelings of animosity for that student who may have been regretting his/her decision to send the letter. Or maybe it was just a piece of junk mail, a credit card offer, an advertisement. You never know what effect one little movement of fate will have. You can never know if the smile you shine over someone, the gentle touch on the shoulder as you say excuse me, might have made an impression on them, might have saved them from some downward spiral of despair and maybe saved their life. You never know if some stupid move you made like not stopping on the highway to pick up a ladder that had fallen from someone’s truck might have later caused an accident, or perhaps even a death. And it’s little things like the envelope dropping that make me realize the importance of every single little minute decision I make. I may have ruined a life by not turning around, or I may not have.

But I, and she, will never know.


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