Today it is cold. This goes without saying if you live where I live in Northwestern Illinois, but even for us, today it is cold. It is the kind of cold that bites at your skin as you run from the car into a store, or makes you really wish you had decided to fill your gas tank before during the warm spell two days ago instead of venturing out into the blustery winds only to discover your tank quickly nearing empty.
The roads are covered in snow packed ice, too cold for salt to warm to a proper melting temperature in the glaring sun making driving an art of counter steering and breaking, the radio warning of windchills and severe temperatures.
This is the kind of cold that kills. Not just figuratively, literally. Freezes soft tissues until the no longer resemble the once moldable form that was skin. This is the day I helped a woman. I am not sure how much help I was, I just know I was there when she needed someone to be there. By the side of the road in a small town in southwestern Wisonsin stood a woman with a baby in her arms. As I passed her she hefted the weight of the infant high onto her hip and held a cell phone to her ear. The baby was covered with a blanket slug over the child's pink snow suit and hood, leaving only a small, bare hand and two stocking covered feet exposed to the wicked air. Matthew was driving as I began demanding that he find a place to turn around.
My mind raced with anger as driver after driver sped by this woman and child. I scanned the ditches and side of the road for a vehicle from which she would have come, there were none. Matthew slowed the car on the shoulder, but I had already begun to open my door. I consciously cranked the heat control to high and turn on the the seat warmer as my feet touched the moving ground below my door.
"I will put her in the car." I yelled back to Matthew as I approached the woman. I could now see clearly the small purple and white hand beneath the blanketed form she held in her arms. It took everything in my being not to wrap that little hand in my own share the heat from my hands, to bring back the circulation and chase away the gut wrenching purple that had consumed her fingers.
I told the woman to sit in the car - we would help her, give her a ride. She glanced sideways at the large man behind the wheel before allowing me to seat her in the back of the car, far from him. Diverting her eyes, cautious to avoid eye contact with him, she asked to use our phone while she held up her, presumably dead, cell phone. She sat only halfway onto the seat as the winds bit at us from all directions, small child whimpering in her lap. Her large handbag kept me from closing the door around them to trap the heat that was being quickly replaced with fridged air inside the car.
I studied her as she dialed the phone with numb fingers. I took in her heavily applied eyeliner, her false eye lashes, her high heeled leather boots and vintage washed blue jeans. Her pink lace alibab was fastened with small, purple heart shaped child's barrettes on either side of her head. She had a slight frame with high cheekbones and deep set brown eyes. She spoke what I can only assume was a name into the handset. There was a long pause, followed by a hastened sentence in a foreign language. Already she was getting out of the car as if staying would be some grave mistake. She would rather take her chances in the bitter cold then be in that car. For a brief moment I was able to see the large dark eyes of the child in her lap. A cherubic face with soft lips and full cheeks stared from beneath the folds of fabric, one hand reaching outwards in search of something to hold. Her pink fleece snowsuit was about four months too small, leaving two inches of skin exposed above small pink and white socks. She worn no shoes, and no gloves, none of the basic winter essentials on a day like this. Items we take for granted, possibly even curse, when we struggle to dress writhing children for a simple trip to the store.
The woman stood once again on the side of the road. "I will walk," She declared as she motioned further down the road. I could see the tears welling in her eyes. "It is not far." I explained to her that I could not let her walk, we would drive her. Matthew, overhearing this from the front seat, said "I will get out - you drive her and I'll wait here." Knowing that it was with him that the problem lied for this woman. She could not possibly get in a car with a man that was not her husband.
Just then a loud shout came from a small white Honda on a nearby frontage road. "Is this your ride?" I asked watching the man slow and taking in the enormity of the snow that lay between him and us. I did not know if he was going to wait there, expecting her to trek through the drifts that filled the space. Relief flooded me as he turned his car and continued up the road back to the highway. She stared at the vehicle for a long time before she answered me. As if she, herself, was unsure if this man had come for her. "Yes. Yes, this is him." She finally answered with certainty as he neared us. "You are so kind, thank you." She held my arm, her eyes glittering with moisture. I wanted to tell her that God will be with her. I wanted to shower his blessings upon this woman. I did not. I did not wrap her in my arms and tell her everything would be alright, no matter where she came from or what situation she was in. I let her go. I let that child go.
Matthew and I watched as she climbed into the little white car, child on her lap. We watched them pull out into traffic and turn back the way the man had come from. We watched as the driver checked us over his shoulder several times as he turned back onto the frontage road.
I had to drop Matthew off at his truck, as we drove the remaining portion of our trip separately. The whole time thoughts swirled around my head and suddenly I was angry. Angry that this woman had this beautiful baby out on this day. This frigid day. Angry that that child now knows, in her short life, what it is to be freezing. Anger of a religion that would deem this woman and child freeze to death before allowing a man to drive them to safety.
I turned on the radio to distract myself from the many thoughts permeating my brain only to be greeted by Bob Woodward newest book release the "Obama Wars". Listening to death tolls of Talaban martyrs in far off lands, my head flooded with "what-if" scenarios. I lost myself to the imprinted thoughts that our society had drilled into us. I saw the man's face as he drove away, hovering over the steering wheel. I imaged all the terrible things that we could have faced. But who am I kidding. What it all comes down to is what we are willing to do for another human being. That no matter what walk of life, what history surrounds us, what religion we choose - we are all in this together and who would I be if I did not stop? What kind of person, what kind of Christian? And what kind of people passed her on the road and did not look back?
Tonight I will be grateful. Grateful for the opportunity ever day to wrestle me children into warm mittens and snow boots. Grateful to have a God that loves me and wants me to live and be free. Be safe. Grateful.