Even though it’s been 10 years, I’ll never forget seeing you on a Sacramento freeway on-ramp during rush hour.
I remember well because you looked so much like my 16-year-old daughter that it’s as if you were her. I know you saw me, too, but you won’t likely remember me.
I was the driver squinting to understand the words of the handwritten sign you held so tightly. The multicolored sign was much like the poster teenagers wave to advertise soccer team car washes.
As I inched further up the ramp, I finally deciphered the thinly scrawled letters of your wrinkled sign — “BAY AREA.”
That’s when I knew you weren’t washing cars. More likely, you were running away.
As the traffic light controlling freeway entry turned green, I lowered my foot onto the accelerator. I couldn’t stop, I told myself. The San Francisco Bay Area would add another four hours to my commute. Besides, where in the 1,600 square miles of the Bay Area did you want to go?
Your slumped stance hinted that it didn’t matter where. Was life so meaningless that you’d settle for going anywhere? If I had taken you to the Bay Area, would I have become a conspirator in your pain?
In the next few seconds, our eyes locked, and I think you knew I had a daughter your age. I could see you recognized the fatherly fear I had for a young girl on her own.
You glanced inside my car, taking measure of the available space, but you looked away when you realized I had little room for you in my heart. I wasn’t stopping. I was speeding home for dinner. I’d not be the one who would help you that day.
But as I passed, I noticed more than your sign. I saw your profile. Were you pregnant? Was there another life you were taking into obscurity?
Perhaps you happened to notice that I flashed my brake lights as I scanned the freeway ramp for a way to stop. U-turns weren’t allowed or I swear I’d have come back for you.
After all these years, I still regret that I didn’t stop. Sadly, there’s no way to rewind that clock and help her safely make her destination. Fortunately, however, it’s not too late to lend our help to the dozens of local organizations that rescue women from domestic violence, sex trafficking and homelessness.
As people of faith, we are called to help women who can’t help themselves. Specifically, Christians are called to treat the disenfranchised in the same way we’d treat Jesus. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus put it this way, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
At the end of the day, I know that I’m not personally responsible for how pain has tragically shaped the lives of these women. But I am responsible for how their pain will shape me.
The pain of that young woman slumped along the Sacramento on-ramp shaped my future outlook — and I hope this story becomes a shaping force for you.