My work schedule is never very nailed down with this summer job. I might work until 4:30, I might work until 6:00. I never really know. But this last week has been really busy, and I found myself staying until about 5:30, and ending up catching the 6:10 train home.

The first night this happened, I sat next to a very nice woman who started up a little polite chat with me, and then sat quietly until her stop. Right before she got off, I called my mom and asked her a quick question, which turned into a philosophical dissertation about my life.

What are you doing with your life, Jenni? Don’t get stuck in a job you hate, it’s too hard to get out. What about health care? I thought you wanted to be a teacher? What else are you going to do with yourself? You need to take time to think about what you want!

I didn’t need to have that conversation in a quiet train car next to a woman I didn’t know. I was embarrassed and was trying to talk quietly. The woman silently got up, and exited at her stop as soon as I hung up the phone, feeling like an utter failure.

The next night I was late at work again and hopped on the 6:10. I was writing in my journal, not really paying attention, when someone took the empty seat next to me. I looked up and it was the same lady. What are the chances? I said an enthusiastic hello, wondering if she remembered me. She held her Starbucks and said hello back. Maybe she didn’t want to disturb me, but she seemed very quiet. I put my journal away.

“Where are you headed today?” she asked me.

“Lombard.” I answered. The day before I was going to meet Jeremy at Wheaton after he was done walking.

“You go all over the place!” she said to me, jokingly. She was an older lady, maybe my mother’s age. She had short curly hair, with a tint of red; and the “it’s far too inappropriate for a lady of my age to have long hair” kind of cut. She wore glasses, slightly rose colored. She has a slightly raspy voice, probably from years of smoking.

We sat in silence as the train pulled out of the station and she finally turned to me and said, “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with your mother yesterday.”

I swallowed hard, very embarrassed, but mostly I didn’t feel like discussing my personal life with a complete stranger.

“Yeah,” I said, “She’s a little disappointed with me.” My words betrayed my thoughts, spilling out the most bottled up portions of what’s been going on in my life. I continued into the story of my previous job, dating Jeremy, quitting and moving down here, taking this new job and feeling more lost than ever before. I told her I felt like I let my parents down, and they were unhappy with me.

Why was I saying all this to a complete stranger? I didn’t know her from anyone else on that train. She just happened to sit next to me two days in a row…in the same seat. It all just kept coming out, and she just sat and listened.

She finally looked at me and said, “You know, I’m a mom, and I want my kids to be happy too-they’re about your age-but it’s not my life. And this isn’t your mother’s life, and she can’t live yours for you. You have to make your own decisions. But you seem smart, and you got another job, and you’re trying your best to make it work. My daughter is a teacher, so I know finding a job isn’t easy, but if it’s what you want to do, you’ll make it. You need to do what makes you happy, not what makes your parents happy. It’s hard for us to take sometimes, but we always love you no matter what.”

I sat next to this woman, who I barely knew, holding back tears. Words have different meaning coming from certain people. This was a total stranger.

We chit chatted about all sorts of things after that, teaching, our jobs, her kids, and it felt like a strange divine intervention that this woman should overhear a short conversation with my mother, and give me the advice I was so longing to hear. I hear so often stories about people who meet a total stranger, and they leave such an impact that their lives are forever changed. I was grateful for her, and very touched.

Her stop approached, and she reached out her hand to shake mine. “Good luck!” she said, “You’re going to be just fine. Go chase your dreams.” I shook her hand, and smiled.

“By the way,” she said, “my name is Angel.”

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