14 December 2006

Full Circle

About six months ago, I wrote a post about something, that to this day, still bothers me. During the past week, I had a second chance to do what I considered to be the right thing. Not that it helped the man I left walking in the dark all those months ago, but it helped someone else.

A co-worker and I were on the drive home from a twelve hour day. She was filling out paperwork while I was driving, and I passed a truck on the side of the expressway with its flashers on, then a man walking about 100 feet from it, head down, hands in his pocket, coat zipped up as far as it could be to cover his face.

I hesitated for a moment, then continued driving before braking and pulling off to the side. "There's a man broke down back there, is it going to freak you out if I stop and pick him up?" I asked my colleague. "No, but it would freak me out if you did it when you were alone". I put the car in reverse and backed up to the stranger.

The next exit was over four miles away, and it was bitter, bitter cold. He'd run out of gas and didn't have a cell phone to call anyone. I handed him my phone so that he could call for help. We left him at a fast food restaurant off of the exit so that he could wait for the person that was coming to get him. I made sure that he had enough money to buy a coffee to warm himself up.

"Thanks", he kept repeating to me. "Thanks so much. If I see you along the road, I'll be sure to stop."

"If you see anyone that needs a hand, just help them," I responded, "That can be your thanks back to me".

He looked stunned for a second, then something--almost light--dawned on his face, and with a cracking voice he responded, "I'm going to. I'm going to help someone else. Thanks, lady".

And I'm certain that he will; I know not many certainties in life, but with all that is within me, I know that.

And there lies the dilemma within me. Had I been alone, would I have stopped? I believe that even if it were just myself, this was a person that simply needed a hand. After all this time, it bothers me that I haven't answered this question, that I don't know this about me.

Am I the sort that only offers hope when it fits into my time frame? When I am secure in my surroundings? When they are dressed appropriately and don't appear too desperate? When it's light and sunny and not dark and cold? When it's convenient for me?

How many others on a daily basis do I pass, walking along some other road that I cannot even see, that I don't give a second thought to? The old woman across the road from me, shoveling herself out from the snow storm? The woman in the supermarket whose children were running up and down the aisles, her baby in one arm, screaming, shoppers glaring at her, the sheer exhaustion in her eyes weighing me down? The man who I only made eye contact with for one second as he was shoving along his shopping cart full of possessions while I scurried as fast as I could to my car?

How many chances did I let pass me by to alter a persons perception of what type of kindness this world holds?

Would I have stopped, that night last week, had I been alone in my car? I don't know the answer to that, even now.

That's what makes this full circle seem more of a jagged line, piercing in and out of my soul.


Amy said...

There's a difference between being a good and helpful person, and being a person who takes unnecessary risks who will eventually get herself killed. You have two children who are counting on you (and only you, from what it sounds like!). You can't take the risk that the guy who looks like he's having car trouble is really a serial killer. You just can't. I never, ever stop to help people when I'm alone with my children. Ever. I will stop if my husband or someone else is with me, but I can't defend myself and I won't take the risk. You shouldn't either.

When I see someone who appears to need help, I will roll down my window a little and offer to call for them on my cell. Or sometimes, like on the highway where I can't stop, I will just call 911 and have the dispatcher send someone.

You aren't responsible for every random person who runs out of gas. You ARE responsible for your kids. There are people who are paid to help others (police, etc.). Send them, keep driving, and keep yourself safe.

Blog Antagonist said...

I'm glad you picked him up, but I would have been equally glad had you not. It's such a scary world these days.

You will be repaid for your kindness one day. I believe that.

Bethany said...

Personally, I don't think you should stop when you're alone. I don't think it's about doing the right thing, I think it's about doing the right thing the right way.

There are other ways to help -- use your cell phone, stop and offer yours through the window, running for a gallon of gas and brining it back, etc.

But that's just me.

I like the thoughts behind your post, however. Helping others should is one place where we should never second guess ourselves.

jen said...

Am I the only one who offers hope when it fits into my timeframe, you ask?


It was so cold on Friday night. I was late. I was tired. I didn't have any money. So I didn't stop for a guy I saw on the street, and I can't stop thinking about him ever since. No, you are not the only one. But maybe by reading and talking and doing we can narrow the margin a bit. Thank you for writing this post.

T with Honey said...

Looks like everyone else covered most of what I had to say.

Each situation is different and needs to be considered on its own. Just how cold/hot is it outside? How much immediate danger is the stranded motorist facing? If things look really bad and I feel I can provide assistance that they can't wait for from trained professionals then I'll stop. Otherwise I put my cell phone minutes to good use.

Julie Pippert said...

I can't take every opportunity to help that I see. It's not reasonable on many levels.

But the ones I can do...your question is a good one. Do I take them? Do I take enough?

I do take some and that's something. It's a lot, actually, I think.

We go by gut, and if our gut is a well-developed and confident voice with good esteem, it works pretty well for us.

There are many avenues for helping out.

Using My Words

flutter said...

I think it would have been just as helpful if you were alone, if you called the police to come and help him on the side of the road.

Putting yourself in danger doesn't help anyone, right? Your big heart needs to be around to help more people. Thanks for writing this my precious friend.

Loralee Choate said...

You have a very good heart.

Many people have phrased my thoughts much better than I can,especially the first comment.

I just think that you should consider this: I know you have great faith, you believe in God and good things. SO, you have to believe in the real evil that is in the world, too.

It is sad, but also a fact.

It true when you said that you would have helped a dog. But dogs have never raped, kidnapped or tortured anyone.

It is conflicting but necessary that you BE SAFE.

Loralee Choate said...

Phooey, I hit publish before I mentioned the most important part:
I am glad that you picked that man up and I believe he will repay the kindness as well. I am glad you were in a better position safety wise, so you could help.

Family Adventure said...

Good post. While I am sure we miss opportunities to do good all the time, being aware will help cut down that number. You did good.


InTheFastLane said...

I agree that there is a difference between helping others and putting ourselves at risk. But, where we draw the line is someone questionable. The question you raise to me are: Do I ever leave my confort zone to help others?

amanda said...

I think your instincts kick in and you stop when your sixth sense tells you they are a safe person. Unfortunately the world today has made us wary of the man with all his posessions in the grocery cart.... Help others, you need to to be you- but keep yourself safe, first and foremost....Calling the highway patrol for that man would have been a huge help for him.

Sam and Ben's Mom said...

You can't always stop. But instead of feeling bad when you can't, be glad for the times you can. And just maybe, your stop did make a difference and the next time you can't stop, your influence ensures that someone who can stop, actually does.

Oh, The Joys said...

You can't be helpful when you are not comfortable.

There is no judgement to be had there.

You did good, friend.

MP said...

Never stop when you are by yourself..but you are right, I think it's easier to consider it when it fits our time schedule..

Please don't do it by yourself..unless it's someone you know.

Christine said...

I agree with the general sentiment here, Jen...and I left a comment on that old post.

luckyzmom said...

You have an obligation to your two girls to not stop when you are alone. But, you have helped many already by this post. I am sure there are many of us who will pay more attention now to those in need because of your post. I was one of those people in need on a cold dark night who ran out of gas once. There was also my wedding day 31 years ago when I ran out of gas that was one of my first posts!

Amy Y said...

I don't think you should stop when you are alone... You have two babies at home to think about. And though most strangers would probably never hurt you, you shouldn't take any chances with your life!!

CM said...

I totally agree with what most of the others said. Keep yourself safe! My husband forbids me to stop when I am alone or with the kids. He stops and helps people and that is enough. I feel like I help others in my own way. If I see an older person, say, at the grocery store or church or anywhere that needs help carrying bags or opening a door, I help. I volunteer my time while my kids are in preschool helping out at a preschool for low income families. I could use the time away from my kids for myself, but I choose not too. It makes me feel good to spend time reading to those kids. I find many ways to help that don't put me in harms way, and yes, I go out of my comfort zone, and spend time that I don't really have doing it.

Gustav said...

I was surfing blogspots for people who listed Van Morrison as one their favourite musicians.

Your musical taste rocks and so do your posts.

Have a nice day.

jtcosby said...

I help teach a Sunday School class and we are discussing the Good Samaritan. While discussing it, we are making an excuse chain. So far, it's HUGE! We've only been doing this for about 2 weeks. It's ridiculous how many excuses we come up with to help us JUSTIFY not helping someone...that being said, one of the biggest points we want to drive home with these children is that you help when it is SAFE TO HELP! If it is not safe to help (ie could get you killed), it's ok to call for "backup". So in the event you are feeling like you aren't helping, maybe you could make that the time you call for help? Just a thought. Love your blog!

Jen M. said...

But you weren't alone. You were with another person, which made it safe, and you really touched him and no doubt he went on (or will go on) to help someone else.

Don't beat yourself up over the what-ifs (I know - easier said than done). You remind me of my bff - so smart, and with a tendency to overthink things- and I mean that in a good way. Just, smart.

What you did was beautiful.

Chaotic Joy said...

When I was about nineteen I was driving down the interstate and saw a car ahead of me start billowing smoke and pull over to the side. It was before the days of everyone carrying a cellphone. I stopped and gave the driver, who turned out to be a hispanic boy near my age, a ride to the courthouse where he was headed. He was uncomfortable, but very grateful and offered to give me gas money which I declined.

When I got back to my home my family was trying desperately to reach me. My step-sister had been driving by and saw me letting a strange man into my car. She was worried sick and had been calling everyone trying to reach me. I was lectured to pieces and told in no uncertain terms that giving strange people on the side of the road, rides is not a job for a women alone.

I have heeded that advice ever since, but several times I have been plagued by feelings of guilt because of it. I am a mother now though, and that makes my decision easier. That and knowing how furious my husband would be.

Thrifty Miss Priss said...

yes, i'm sure he will never forget your kindness. We all want to try and do good, to do better. It's just that little hair on the back of your neck that won't lie down sometimes......So glad it worked out for you- I know you felt that you were given the help, given the gift that night.

Anonymous said...

That was a kind thing to do and not something you could have done if you had been by yourself. But you weren't so it's all good.

I believe the best of people but I've also been attacked in broad daylight in a public park so I am also cautious.

And I'm sure he will help someone else, sometime, somewhere.

painted maypole said...

beautiful. these are hard, hard questions.

Tuesday Girl said...

You can only do what you can do. You may have not brought him to a rest stop but maybe you would call someone for him.

I am sure he will pay it back.

Becc said...

Okay. First off, let me say this is a country song!

Second, I agree! There is a diffrence in taking a dangerous risk and then there's the side of caution, for you and your children.

Love ya!

Kimberly said...

I was faced with a similar situation a few months ago. I still think about it whenever I am at that grocery store - esp. in the parking lot.

Weighing the risks is a challenging task.

Once again, I find you amazing.

slouching mom said...

you're a good person, jenn.

Anonymous said...

I pretty much second what everyone else said, that it's your girls you're responsible for and not people on the side of the road. It's awesome that you do stop when you can, but you have to think of your own safety, too. And sure, there are other ways to make sure those people get help without your being forced to put yourself at risk. Use your cell to call someone; if they've run out of gas, offer to run and get them a gallon or two; ask them if they need a tow truck that you can call. It doesn't have to be an all or nothing proposition to help people out of a jam, but not everyone who looks to be in a jam is really just in need of logistical help. That's why side of the road strandings are one of the biggest ways that people can be fooled into situations where strangers can hurt them. You're very kind, but you also need to be safe with yourself. It's not a lack of generosity or a coldness on your part. It's a balancing of priorities and something we all have to do.


Single Mom Seeking said...

Thanks for pointing out how much fear we live in these days... You are helping others break through it -- with intelligence on your side.

Anonymous said...

Your writing slays me.

But stay safe, friend, stay safe.