It was 7:40 a.m., sitting at a stoplight in Lillington, on my way to the office at Campbell University Divinity School where a pile of papers waited for me to grade them. My Prius is a small hatchback, so when a red Chevrolet compact rolled to a stop not too far from my rear bumper, it was hard not to notice.

I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw that the driver was a young woman whose medium-length hair was semi-curly and mostly blond, except for the inch of dark roots where it was parted.

She was crying.

Not gentle sniffs and a trickling tear, but big-time sobbing, the kind that twists your mouth into an uncomfortable grimace, the kind that leaves your eyes and nose the color of a blushing rose, but not as pretty.

It was painfully early for such sorrow, I thought. I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened. Had she had a fight with her husband or boyfriend or parents before leaving home? Had she just gotten word that someone dear to her had died? Had she slept at all the night before?

I could only wonder. Soon the light changed and we moved on down the highway. I could see her wiping tears with the back of her hand, trying to smooth her hair and compose her face as she slowed down to turn in at the community college.

On my CD player, Chi Rho was singing the chorus to Taylor Farry’s “New Day” in an uplifting, lilting harmony:

And it just might be,
the prettiest thing that you’ll ever see
it’s a new day,
Oh baby, it’s a new day.
If you look outside
It’s a new day …

 I watched the young woman turn left, hoping that she succeeded in pulling herself together before class. I offered a brief prayer for a girl I didn’t know, wishing her the hope of a happier day.

Then I drove on, reminded again that we never know what’s going on in the lives of those who cross our paths, or share our roads, or serve us lunch. For the rest of the day, I looked at everyone I met a little differently, and sought to be a little more attentive, a bit more sensitive.

I don’t know if the weeping woman in the Chevy is feeling any better, but she made me better at feeling, at least for a day.

Perhaps her tears were not in vain.

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