Thinking things through before diving in to offer help is not my typical strategy. Despite my best efforts, intuitively and impulsively responding to crisis tends to be more my thing. I tend to respond first in love, and then sort out the details later. As a result, I often walk this tricky line of attempting to save the day and creating chaos. Some days it works, some days- not so much.
One Sunday morning, two years ago, my daughter remembered that she had to print a poster sized project for an early Monday morning class at college. She’d worked on it over Thanksgiving break, but we forgot the final step of actually printing it. Her flight back to school was to leave in 3.5 hours. With no time to print once she returned, it was print it now or never. I jumped into action. While she packed to leave, I rushed out the door, un-showered, no makeup, dressed in paint-covered yoga pants and a very ratty sweatshirt. It was cold and rainy and I didn’t have a proper coat with me. The plan was to run to Office Depot, print the poster and get back before she left for the airport. It was a perfect, easily doable plan. Drive to Office Depot…check. Get poster printed…. Check. Purchase mailing tube so it would travel safely on plane…Check. Put poster in tube…..Check. Head on home…check! In fact, it went so well, I had 40 minutes to spare. So I pulled into a gas station to fill up my nearly empty tank.
I figured I’d get gas and then get a snack since I had yet to eat. I turned off my car, filled up, grabbed a bit of cash, left my car in front of the pump, shut the door and went inside. I grabbed a ginger ale and a pack of crackers and headed back to my car-only to find it locked. No problem, I searched through my sweatshirt pocket….no keys. I’d left them in the car. Apparently, my car has a random safety feature that locks your doors if you leave your keys in it (!?) No problem, I’ll use my key-less code. Nope…. on a card, in my purse, which was still in my car…. No problem, I’ll use my other set of keys…also in my purse. No problem, I’ll call hubby Rick and he can call a tow truck or get the code from the dealer….ugh! my cell phone is also in my car…. as is the printed poster that needs to catch a flight in 2.5 hours.
The rest of this story is a blur of mild panic, problem solving, a patient but exasperated husband and some really impatient people. And also, some wonderful ones. This is where the story really begins.
Please picture me…in the cold rain….in ratty clothing…on a busy Sunday morning…. standing outside of the gas station…. my car blocking the pump for others. The employee of the gas station was a lovely woman of Middle Eastern descent who could not have treated me with more kindness. She let me use the phone numerous times to call my husband and the towing company and she invited me to stand in her tiny store to keep warm. She offered me sympathy and empathy despite a pretty significant language barrier. I was devastatingly embarrassed and she showed me great grace. I didn’t want to take up a lot of room in her shop, so I spent much of the time pacing outside; waiting for the tow truck. I was wet, cold, disheveled and probably visibly distraught. Being a Sunday morning, the church-going crowd began pulling up to get gas. One by one they arrived, beautiful cars filled with well-dressed people- the most of whom seemed fairly irritated with me. Glares, eye-rolls, honking, exasperated, cold stares or just looking away with no eye-contact at all. Not one offered me assistance or even a kind smile, most seemed pretty disgusted.
During this time, a young man of Latino descent pulled up in a beat up old car to get gas. He watched me carefully as he filled his tank and then drove away. 10 minutes later he returned and in heavily-accented English, asked me if I needed help. He said he felt badly leaving and had to come back to check on me. I smiled at his kindness and I assured him help was on the way. I thanked him profusely, spirits slightly lifted. Next, up walked a person who looked about as desperate as I was. She asked me if I had any money so she could get some gas. I told her I wished I could help her but that my purse was locked in my car and I had no way to get to it. She smiled at me and said she wished she too could help me. We laughed together at our bad luck, comforted in having company in our embarrassment. I promised her that if I got into my car and she was still there, I would give her some gas money.
At this point, I was feeling pretty defeated, Rick and Caroline were on their way-the flight was looming, I was still locked out- Where was the tow truck? I was getting a bit angry and beating myself up pretty badly inside. I went back into the store to call the driver and he apologized profusely saying he was close by. He had gotten a call from a 75-year-old woman with a flat tire on the side of the road, and he made the decision to help her first. I forgave him instantly and told him to take his time. I could wait.
I went back outside and up pulled a cab driver- I don’t know where he was from originally but his skin was a beautiful, glowing brown and his accent soothed my nerves. He gave me a massive smile and asked if I needed help. I smiled back and once again assured him help was on the way. His kindness settled me and I finally stopped pacing and decided to just roll with it. Just then the tow truck pulled in, the driver opened my car and Rick pulled up with Caroline. Crisis averted, big hugs exchanged and I sent them and the poster on their way to the airport. I looked for the woman who needed money, but she was long gone. I don’t know who helped her, but I have a hunch.
Recently I woke to reports that the president had once again cruelly (and crudely) suggested that certain immigrants are less deserving of being welcomed into our country than others. He wrongly implied that being poor, non-white, or in crisis makes you a bad risk. He's wrong. I know one thing for sure, in times of hardship, it is those who have been in the trenches and dealt with cruelty, grief, unkindness and need that are often the first to pitch in and offer assistance. In fact, I suspect the people he wants to keep out are very possibly the ones with the empathy, kindness, compassion and drive to make ours an even better country. The question isn’t whether these immigrants deserve to be here. The question is, do we still deserve them?
To sign up for my monthly newsletter please click here