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For a very long time I have followed a beautiful woman. As I was contemplating starting a new page and blog for ECHO I kept searching for her to be my first story. Months have come and gone while I ventured down the mountain into Asheville to find her. This morning I set my intentions that today would be the day I would be able to snap a picture of this sweet soul. I was beyond giddy to find her.

I bought Pablina breakfast and sat with her in the back of Starbucks. She’s there a few times a week at different times. In April, on my birthday, I bought her coffee and a cake to celebrate my day with her. That day she was lucid. She told me she was Eastern European. She has been here in the states for a long time. Her blue-green eyes lit as I asked for her story. She didn’t hesitate to share how much she loved Asheville and its people. But, today it was different. The light in her eyes was dim. I couldn’t get much out of her. I asked her again where she was from and she immediately answered in her strong accent, “I was born here in Asheville.”

“Have you traveled anywhere else.” I asked with pen and paper.

“Sometimes. No! Not really. I am from here.”

“Pablina, you have a beautiful name.”

“You too.” Although she never asked. I introduced myself as a writer of life. I wanted to share stories and give voice to those who didn’t feel they had one.

“Do you feel you have a voice?” I asked her.

“No one cares. No one really hears. I mostly talk to myself.” She smiled, showing me her light again.

“I care. I want to tell your story. I have been looking for you for sometime to be the first on my site. May I take a picture?” She agreed and smiled again.

As per the manager in Starbucks, Pablina goes in there quite often. Some days she speaks while on other days the lights are gone from her. It’s like staring at a reflection from a glass window…dim and transparent. I have witnessed it on many occasions as I come across her walking downtown speaking back to no one. “Stop touching me. Why are you always following me? I can’t stand you anymore….” I have heard her have long conversations in her native language and have wondered how she functions. She knows the streets. She knows the shelters. I don’t know if she is on medication. I suspect not at all. I also know she’s resourceful and has learned to navigate this life on her own.

BUT, here is what I have learned from sitting with her several times or even witnessing her from a distance: Pablina is a beautifully extraordinary soul. Her smile and eyes twinkle with gratitude when someone speaks to her. She lives in her own head with many others and I am aware of mental illness and the horrific stigma it has in our society. We fear that which we don’t understand. She’s human. She’s here. She’s not invisible. She has a story of siblings and mountains and fresh country air from her past. She has stories of parents, childhood, and distances beyond our reach. She is enough. She is light. She is a student and a teacher depending on her audience.

If you are ever in Asheville and enter the Starbucks on Charlotte Street, please be sure to speak with her. She loves pastries. She loves smiles. And, mostly she loves to know that she matters.

In closing I said, “Pablina, can I get a hug?”

She got up…extended her arms while I kissed her. “I love you, lady.”

Embarrassed she covered her mouth, sat back down and continued looking out the window.

I walked to my car with tears, mascara running down my cheeks. Note to self: never wear makeup while interviewing these amazing teachers.