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A few weeks ago, I was entering the building where I work when I paused for a moment to appreciate the flowering white trees just outside the employee entrance. These Bradford pears only bloom for about ten days each spring, and they draw my admiration each time.

I waved my pass card over the automatic lock and heard the tiny click that accompanied the green light signaling the open door. As I stepped inside and rounded the bend near the elevator, a slightly-built woman with shoulder-length gray hair smiled as she passed and then stopped, came back a step.

“How is Caroline*?” Pat* asked hesitantly.

Caroline worked in my department the past several years. Possessed of a rare ability to track joy into every room she enters, Caroline seems utterly unselfconscious in a way that marks those who consistently focus on others.  When an aggressive metastatic disease left her gasping with pain late this winter, Caroline reluctantly resigned in order to engage the enemy fulltime.

I briefly shared the latest medical update we had but was puzzled. Pat works in a different part of the building in a department that never interacts with mine. “I didn’t realize you knew her,” I commented.

“Oh, I don’t really,” she said quietly. “Caroline wouldn’t even know my name, but I was standing in the cafeteria one day at lunch time when she stopped to use the microwave and then smiled at me.

“’What a pretty pink sweater you are wearing,’” she said. “’You look so nice!’ That was all.”

Pat looked down at the floor for a moment. She didn’t need to tell me; I saw it in her face. In a world where the young and fit attract attention, Pat and women like her are often  invisible. As with many middle-aged and older women who live alone, Pat has no one to tell her that she looks nice. No one to notice when she comes home late, or not at all.  Perhaps no one had complimented her in a very long time.

“Tell Caroline…” she started, then hesitated. “Tell her, would you please? that the woman in the pink sweater says hello.” Pat’s eyes brimmed with tears. “And that I am praying for her.”

And she hurried off.

For 50 weeks of the year, those Bradford pears at the entrance barely attract notice. That day I had stopped to admire them simply because they were beautiful.

But how much do I miss every week of the year? People like trees walking who are alone, unassuming, quietly going about their day. Men and women alike with no special attributes to draw my distracted attention. People who are invisible until someone cares enough to truly see them.

“Just then [Jesus’] disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman…  Then Jesus explained…‘You know the saying,’Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around.The fields are already ripe for harvest.” John 4: 27,35

Lord, give me eyes like Jesus and Caroline’s to wake up and see your people. People like Pat.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy