Just yesterday I was riding high, feeling good about myself when I got slapped in the face with a moment of self realization so surreal that it humbled me right down to my shoes. Thanksgiving was over and I was traveling with my krewe on our whirlwind transit back home from a very successful east coast book signing tour. Great sales, great turnouts of fans and great friends all came out from town to town. Still glowing, we were road worn and weary about 9 hours into our journey when the punch came that grounded me.
It was around 9am when we pulled into a desolate gas station somewhere in south Georgia to revive and re-fuel, I could see my breath. It was 30 degrees or less outside as I dropped the girls off at the door before pulling to the pumps, we were the only ones there.
I got out of the car and from where I stood I could see the side of the station. I saw someone sitting there, hidden in blankets and hoodies, crouched on top of a ragged old sleeping bag on a cold concrete sidewalk. Two grocery bags sat close by containing all of this person's worldly possessions. The stranger was crowded with a family of cats, 12 or more encircling at all times. I watched as a hand would come from behind the blanket and pick from one of the bags slowly feeding every passing feline.
I was frozen in a state of humility, couldn't speak, couldn't move. I felt the world moving around me almost causing vertigo. I just stood there in a daze wondering to myself just who the hell I am.
My body took over and I started my slow pace towards the stranger. I moved quietly and kept my head down with hope not to disturb or frighten. Without thought or reservation I pulled my wallet from my pocket raking it clean with one swift jerk. I felt numb inside, almost as if I was watching a movie of myself acting this scene out. I looked a bit off coarse I know as I stood there arm outstretched-cats winding around my legs.
From behind the cloak I can see a face, it's a woman, around my age maybe older. She looks up at me with a smile. Her skin was pale white from the cold with big rosey cheeks to prove it. I'll remember a framed face, big blue eyes and a dimple in her chin, looked kind of like a cherub.
With a subtle "Thank you" she takes the money from my hand then proceeds to pull the ragged sleeping bag out of her shadow and down to the end of the sidewalk into the sunlight where it was warmer. I watched the cats follow her as I start to move away, careful not to step on one of them.
Drowning in melancholy I slinked back to my ride never looking up, staring at my feet all the way. Thought's are spinning through my head. I know what I did may be thought as an act of kindness but at that moment I couldn't have possibly felt any worse. With all I have to be thankful for, my family, my home, my health, I look out on souls like her who spend their every waking hour in a fight just trying to survive.
I get back to my car still looking down, feeling as if I was being tested by a higher power. My heart was in my throat, wondering if what I did was helpful, wondering if what I did was enough. I feel my eyes begin to well up as I raise my head to see my family standing there staring back at me with cold faces and tears in their eyes...they looked right through me, they saw the whole thing.
With a heavy heart I took them by the hand gently tucking them into the car and off we went on a southbound interstate. Through the corner of my eye I could see her sitting in the sun happily playing in the cold cold morning with her family of cats.