Out for a long walk in Louisville on a cool, breezy Friday. I pass an old car wash along Bardstown Road, and in the stall nearest the road is a late-middle-aged woman washing an old Pontiac. She is clearly not accustomed to washing her car, as her movements are stiff and ineffectual; she will be at this for a while. We make eye contact momentarily, and she is far from a beauty--homely, actually (she may well have thought the same of my rotund self), and she is dressed in simple, old working class attire. Her car is so old (late '60s, I suppose) that it could be a classic if it were not on its last legs. But the paint is blotchy and faded, the interior sun-baked and tattered, and there are many dents and rust spots.
There's no shame in not having money, of course, and indeed she is to be admired for not buying into the disposable culture that has gripped our society (and myself, I'm sure), for keeping a perfectly serviceable vehicle until there is some reason more compelling than fashion to make a change.
But something in the scene pained my heart. So many questions come unbidden: Why is she washing her own car, and not her husband or her son? Is she all alone at age 60? Why bother to wash the car at all? Very little of what ails it can be fixed at a car wash. Is someone coming to visit, someone we want to look our best for? Are children coming home to see mom for the weekend? Maybe grandkids? What if she's widowed and going on a blind date? She might surprise me at how well she cleans up, but first impressions are that she wouldn't make a good first impression, at least physically. Or maybe she's a spinster.
God knows I'm not trying to knock her. There's almost everything more important in life than physical beauty, which is fortunate for many of us (I'm reminded of Abraham Lincoln's quote "God must have liked common people: he sure made a lot of them!"). But something in this scene struck me as being so pathetic, like someone hanging on to a tiny thread of hope in the midst of bleakness--I wished I could send a ray of some concentrated good thing to her, to wave my hand and have all her cares be gone.
Here's hoping my radar about these things is as ill-calibrated as my nutritional sense.