a mere trifle

Do you ever pull up to a traffic light and look around at all the people sitting in their cars and think about how they — every single one of them — represent a whole universe? Each person is a world unto themselves, with passions and agonies and fears and longings.

When I think about it, really think about it, my mind spasms and I am suddenly equal parts invitoraged and depressed. The intensity with which I feel things is so enormous, so all-encompassing, and yet the whole of my universe is utterly invisible to all but a smattering of folks.

I am
All I know. I am
but a mere trifle. 


Yesterday my older son dropped in to do a load of laundry. While the machine worked its magic, he left to go on a run. I was working on the computer when I heard him talking to someone out on the deck. At first I assumed he was on the phone but then I heard another voice. I peeked through the door and saw a grubby, ginger-bearded man.

My son popped his head in the door. “I met this guy who’s biking from DC to Florida and told him he could refill his water here.” 

“Sure,” I said. “Does he need a bathroom? A shower? Does he want something to eat?” And then when I glimpsed the man walking away from the house, “Wait! Why’s he leaving? Stop him!”

“He’s just getting his water bottle,” my son laughed. “He’ll be right back.”

The two of them sat out on the deck while I heated up a plate of leftover lasagna and made coffee. While I puttered about the kitchen, I could hear the steady murmur of their voices, and through the window I saw them studying maps on their phones, absentmindedly petting the dogs while they chatted, pointing to the mountains that were rapidly being obscured by smoke from the forest fires. A little later when I was down in the field checking on Charlotte (no calf, STILL), my son called me. “He’s ready to leave. Do you have food we can send with him?”

By the time I got back to the house, my son had collected crackers and cheese, the bag of ginger cookies I’d already packed up, some apples. When the man went back out to his bike to get his water bottle to refill (which had been the whole reason for stopping at our house in the first place), my son said, “Just you wait till you hear his story, Mom.”

And then before he left, the man briefly filled me in himself: he’s a bilateral partial foot amputee, the casualty of a disastrous hiking accident, who is now hiking and biking, and posting about his adventures on his instagram and YouTube channel in hopes of inspiring other people to go after their dreams, even against all odds. 

“Are we gonna be famous now?” I teased, and we all laughed. 


After the man left, my son filled me in on their conversation story. “Do you actually think he’s for real?” I asked, ever skeptical. “How do we know he’s actually missing both feet?” 

“I saw them, Mom. He showed me. Look him up!”

“Oh, okay,” I said, scrolling his Instagram page and feeling mildly relieved because — full disclosure — it did occur to me that he could lurk in the woods down the road until we left for town and then return to ransack the place.

My son said, “The whole time I was thinking of that—” His voice broke and and he nodded toward the sign hanging on our chimney.

I knew exactly what he meant. I felt the same way. 


I don’t think that man’s an angel any more than I’m an angel. The angel, I think, is the connection that sparks when the worlds of complete strangers collide. For a few minutes on an ordinary Wednesday morning, that man’s life joined with ours. Briefly, barriers dropped. Stories got swapped, information shared, and food eaten. And now, thanks to that chance encounter, our world has expanded to include a bilateral partial foot amputee bicyclist who is on his way to Key West. 

How beautiful is that?

This same time, years previous: fat cow, the quotidian (11.15.21), sourdough English muffins, guayaba bars, success!, Thai chicken curry, the quotidian (11.16.15), lessons from a shopping trip, official, why I’m glad we don’t have guns in our house, so far so good.


  • Marie

    I too used to welcome every stranger I met. This openness waned while my “mother hen wall” was built as I guided my children into their own lives. Could this be the purpose of continuing a life well lived? Younger generations reintroducing us to forgotten openness? We lit the spark in our own children; are they relighting it for us to see once again? I surely hope so

  • Carol S-B

    You have a way of articulating things so well, Jennifer Jo. I have often felt overwhelmed, sitting at a traffic light- which is a time when one is present, but the mind can wander- thinking about the humanity directly beside me. And surrounding me. And, in the city, the province, the world where I live.
    Overwhelming. That feeling of awe and connection with the ‘all’.
    Which is, to my way of thinking, holy.
    “The angel, I think, is the connection that sparks when the worlds of complete strangers collide.”

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