This month always reminds me, in fact, this experience has never really left me, of my time working at a DC jewelry store when I was about seventeen or so. This store was on K street, on the first floor of a huge office building. Every morning it was my job to put out the display, and this Saturday morning was like all the others. I looked out onto the busy street with all the men and women going about their business. On Saturdays, there were more “civilians” than “suits,” so I worked away thinking nothing of the day.
It’s amazing how you become blind to the things around. I had been doing the display for so long that I no longer noticed the people walking past the window; that was until that morning. So many cars would pull in and out of parking spaces, the people getting out going about their business, and then one car stopped and was different from all the others. A woman was pulling up and trying to force someone out of the car. I stopped what I was doing to take a look.
This woman, I guessed to be perhaps the mother, was yelling at a young girl, no older than I was, to get out. It was so obvious to me that this girl was scared. The glass on the windows was thick, and whatever anyone said you couldn’t hear, but I knew these women were not being quiet. She seemed to be begging her mom to have them go home, and the mom would have none of it. Finally, the girl got out, and the two, mom mostly dragging her, went into the building.
I turned to one of my co-workers and asked what they could be doing in the building on a Saturday. All the offices were closed, weren’t they? Well, it turned out that there was an abortion center somewhere in the building, something I never noticed before, with all the “suits” going in and out. Had there been single women, women with friends, moms and daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends, going in and out all this time without me noticing?
And why would I notice? It wasn’t something on my radar. I finished my work and went about the day. Sometime later, I was called to the window again, maybe it was to put something away I had been showing, maybe it was to pass the time during a slow period, I can’t remember now, but what happened next I will never forget. There were the mom and daughter again; this time, the girl looked very shaken. Mom was yelling and pulling her along. It was obvious that mom was very frustrated and irritated by her daughter’s slowness. The girl was crying and begging to be able to sit down. Mom relented, and the girl slumped down the wall and got sick. Mom looked more upset that the girl was wasting her time than the fact that she was sick. I stood at the window transfixed. I couldn’t move. Do I go out to ask if I could help? Do I mind my business? What do I do?
Nothing as it turned out. Mom saw me standing there and angrily, silently to me, because of the thickness of the glass, yelling and gesturing for me to mind my business. So, there we were, the three of us in this strange transfixed triangle. Me feeling as helpless as the girl sitting in her sick and Mom’s anger and frustrated. After what seemed an age, Mom gave me the finger, dragged the girl back to her feet, and marched back to their car, and off they went.
That experience must have happened 40 some years ago, but it never left me. It transformed me in ways I never knew. The transformation was subtle thinking back; it was always a force for the direction of my life. I went on to study social work, work for Catholic Social Services, become Lansing Diocese Director of Project Rachel, now work with moms. You never know what will happen to you as you gaze outside a window.
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