The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 1, 2014

A day when doing something didn’t feel like enough

From the Back Porch By Nerissa Young

— It was a day for doing things I rarely did. I was on my way to Huntington after the weekend at Mom’s. I decided to pull off the interstate at a convenience store that I rarely patronize.

A petite young woman met me outside the door and asked for directions to Bluefield. I explained which way she should go to get back on the interstate and where to turn for Bluefield. She thanked me profusely, and I went inside to pay my bill before I pumped.

She had walked to the edge of the parking lot and was sitting on a suitcase large enough to put her and a carful of clowns inside. I thought she was waiting for a ride. I pumped my gas.

I watched her leave the parking lot, walk a few yards and sit down on the suitcase. By then, I thought I had figured it out. The Sunday school lesson from that morning rang loudly in my ears: Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only. Was this a divine appointment?

That’s when I decided to pick her up. I never pick up people because I am a woman almost always traveling alone. I usually say a quick prayer as I drive by and hope the person will get what is needed.

I pulled onto the two-lane road and then into the turning lane and rolled down my window. “Are you planning to walk all the way to Bluefield?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

I hit the door lock button. “Get in.”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

We lugged her stuff to the back of the Jeep and threw it inside. That suitcase weighed enough to have a carful of clowns inside. She had enough bags over her shoulders for a 50-pound Army rucksack. The cargo looked like all her worldly belongings. I think it was.

We got in the front seat, and I cranked up the heat to warm her. I was only taking her a few miles down the road, but she was so thankful you’d have thought I’d rented a limo to take her to the front door.

As we talked, I learned she was taking the long road home. She had very little sense of direction or knowledge of the area. She had left her boyfriend but wasn’t sure how long she’d been traveling. She wasn’t under the influence of anything as far as I could tell.

She told me her name. I’m deliberately not using it because, as is often the case in West Virginia, we realized we were from the same neck of the woods. I don’t want to cause her any undue problems by naming her. That isn’t the moral of the story anyway.

“Do you need money?” I asked. She said no.

A few minutes later, I came to the place where I would go one way and she would go another. I popped open the back door of the Jeep.

“Do you mind if I pray with you?” I asked.

She said, “No,” and reached up to grab me in a tight embrace. I prayed for her safety and her future. For a moment, I wondered what people driving by thought of the scene.

I unloaded her luggage and helped get her purse and bags balanced on her shoulders so she could carry her suitcase. I got in the Jeep and watched her walk along the interstate into the dusk.

I didn’t know what to do. I was trying to get home before dark and ahead of an impending storm. I had done what I thought I should, but as I watched her walk along the interstate, I wasn’t sure it was enough. The Bible says to walk 2 miles. She hadn’t compelled me to walk the first one.

I drove away feeling like an ass. I worried about her all the way home. The forecast was for rain followed by snow. I could see her on a bank beside the interstate, drenched by the rain and then covered with snow, hungry and cold with only that suitcase for shelter.

The image was fixed in my mind for days.

I hope someone took her the rest of the way and that her life is good now. That’s what I hope, but I don’t know. And that still bothers me.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail:

© 2014 by Nerissa Young