I was driving home from an errand the other day when I stopped at a red light and saw a poignant scene playing out on the corner.
A young mother, her baby asleep in the stroller in front of her, was standing perfectly still, both hands gripped tightly on the handles of the stroller, peering down into a huge blue commercial dumpster.
The mother wasn’t moving, and wasn’t touching anything inside the dumpster. She was just standing there looking intently into it.
Everything about her, the hunch of her shoulders, the way her neck was craning, her stance, told me that she was struggling—told me that there was something inside that dumpster that she wanted.
When the light turned green, I attempted to turn into the parking lot where she was standing but there was no driveway and I was trapped in my lane and couldn’t go back.
I wanted to do something. “Are you okay?” “Do you need a ride?” How about a million dollars? Would that help?”
I haven’t been able to get that mother out of my mind.
I myself have felt her yearning—not necessarily for something inside a dumpster—but it doesn’t matter what I’ve felt it for or whether it was inside a dumpster or not, I’ve felt it. I know what it is to wonder if it’s okay to feel such want while at the same time feeling ashamed to reach out and get it.
“Pick it up!” I wanted to tell her. “Just put your hand inside that dumpster and pick up what you want. Who cares what people think? You deserve what you want. No matter what it is. No matter that you have to reach into a dumpster to get it.”
Maybe if I’d been able to pull over that’s what I would have done. Maybe I would have gotten out of the car and said,
“Wow, what’s in there?” And looked at it and said that I’d help her get it.
“Here let me hold the stroller. You climb in and get it.”
As I turned into the driveway of my house, I had the fleeting thought that what we all need is someone to help us dive into the dumpster. I know I needed it when I was growing up but no one was there to tell me it was okay to want what I wanted, or there was no driveway for them to drive into where I was standing.
How different would things have been had there been someone to tell me, “Reach out and get it. Whatever it is. You deserve it.”
How much I would have understood that I could have reached for the moon if I wanted to.
I’ve looked for that young mother whenever I go by that intersection and even though I haven’t ever seen her again—not the real flesh and blood her—I have seen her ghost, or the photograph of her that I carry in my mind, and I have hope for her.
I have hope that somehow she got what she was looking for that day or, if she didn’t, that she gets it someday. I have hope that in her life she’ll learn to do more than just stand and look and that someday, she’ll do what I finally did:
She’ll leave that marriage, or
She’ll quit that job, or
She’ll dye her hair purple, or
She’ll do whatever it is that she wants to do
Just because she wants to do it.
I have hope that someday, she’ll know that she deserves whatever it is she wants and that when she sees it she’ll reach out and take what it.
Even if it’s in a dumpster.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Paul Kline/Flickr