That night as I left Wal-mart near 4 a.m. I didn’t know what to do or where to go.

I had been driving all night, burning up the county’s roads and burning up my gas. Blasting my music running through inky country stretches occasionally illuminated by Christmas lights left on by people keeping the lights on 24/7.

I was grateful for these brief spots of light in the very dark night of the world and of my soul.

I had just experienced one of the greatest traumas of my life.

The world I thought I inhabited had been shattered like a full-length mirror exploding — leaving shards showing crooked reflections of a world that used to make sense but no longer did.

Out of gas and with no purse I walked that January night at Wal-mart — my boot heels ricocheting a click, slide rhythm on the floor as I shuffled my feet across the floor. I continue this walking meditation to this day, the sound changing from the click, slide of boots to the soft swish of flip-flops.

I know night workers by name at Wal-mart now. I know about their families. They helped me out at times when I was down to the change I scraped out of my pockets, floorboard and side door. I am grateful to each of them.

That night as I walked out of Wal-mart a man I had talked to before stood outside smoking. I don’t know why I even looked at him that night. I was not making eye contact with anybody.

He smiled. No, I mean he SMILED. One of those crazy “I am hugging you and sending you peace with my smile” smiles. I smiled back.

“Hey,” I said. “Mind if I smoke with you?”

“Sure,” he said.

We stood there smoking and chit-chatting, and then for some insane reason I told him what had happened that night. I cried. I paused and breathed when I felt like my heart was going to pound out of my chest, and I would pass out. I stuttered, which I do under extreme stress. He listened.

“I have never even introduced myself,” I finally told him when I could once again take a deep breath.

“I know who you are,” he said. “Oh,” he knows me, I thought.

What he said next floored me almost as much as what had happened earlier that evening.

“I am Mike Tyson,” he said nonchalantly.

I think my mouth gaped open and my eyes got big.

“ Tyson! … The PO Tyson?” I finally managed to stutter.

“That’d be me,” he replied, smiling that crazy nice smile.

I stood in silence and then started laughing. I laughed, and then he laughed. It was nearing 5 a.m. as we stood there in the freezing cold in front of Wal-mart laughing. Tears came to my eyes — this time from laughing so hard and not from being so sad.

Tyson was a “bad mofo” back in the day. I heard horror stories about him when he worked as a probation officer for Randolph County. I heard over and over, “Oh no, you got Tyson. You’re done for.”

Guess what?

Tyson is one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life. My life that night was up for grabs. Because of the time he took to listen to me — and then give me professional advice on how I should proceed in dealing with the situation I was facing.

Bet all those bad-mouthers didn’t know Tyson’s given name is Mechael (not pronounced like Michael but more like Michelle, because his father loved listening to French short-wave radio and loved the name Mechael).

I just found out he is married to another of one of my very favorite people, Kay (Tyson) at the DMV.

We sometimes miss so much when we just look at the face or color of skin or body shape of the people around us without getting to know them. We miss many opportunities to help others and allow them to help us.

If I had walked by Tyson and not spoken because of the color of his skin or the fact that he is a large, kinda intimidating-looking man, I might not be here today.

He saved my life that night. He was an Earth angel.

* Sharon Jordan Womick lives in Ramseur.