Yesterday, coming home from work late, I had to pick up some vegetables and some medication. These two seemingly mundane tasks turned into a powerful life thought experiment. I had two stops on my normal 35 minute commute home, all with the added bonus of hearing my poor wife’s exasperation on the phone of “When are you going to be home,” as I hear three unruly children in the background wanting, crying, and destroying the overall entropy of the household. I’m convinced that after 6 PM, our children turn in were-children (although without the sudden hairy growth and fangs). I was growing close to not getting home before one of the children (if not all) become aware of the full moon and fully embraced their chaotic side, leaving nothing but destruction and time-outs in their immediate future.
It seems as though, in those moments we are often challenged by the big guy himself (or at least me). After making a marathon run-stop at the Fresh Market for stir fry vegetable goodness (organic of course), I was five minutes from my house, on my way to one of the 8 CVS’s that exist within a 15 mile radius. I’m really not exaggerating. You’re more likely to find a CVS on the north side of Indianapolis than you are a gas station. Anyways, as I drove to my last stop (after promising my wife I’d really, really hurry after my second phone calling and hearing what sounded like the beginnings of howling in the background) I noticed a guy about 19-20ish on the side of the road, stranded outside his stranded beater-car waving at oncoming traffic.
He looked scraggly, in sweats. Unkempt, kind of strange and not very trustworthy. I did what the 7 cars in front of me did. I drove on.
But I really couldn’t end my blog post there if I didn’t have a change of heart or sanity. So reluctantly, 1 mile before my final stop of the evening, and almost a mile from the stranded strange guy, I hit my breaks, pulled a U-turn, and grumbling under my breath – I turned back to the kid. Parking some safe (in my mind, i guess) 5 car distance away, I walked up the motorist.
He apparently noticed me, and was already running to me. That kind of made me nervous. He proceeded to tell me he’d been waving down traffic for about an hour, as he had ran out of gas. I told him that was strange, because he did not LOOK like a serial killer. He chuckled. Then I asked him if he WAS a serial killer. He said no. I started to think to myself if I had a good escape plan or something in my car to use as a weapon if he tried to subdue me. I made the thought go away, as I do a lot of my thoughts that scare me.
I asked him if he’d like for me to take him to the gas station a mile down the road. He sheepishly told me he would have walked to one, if it was not for the fact that he had no money left.
Great -ugh. I pulled out my wallet. I had three dollar bills. I never carry cash. Like, never. I told him he was welcome to it, and to hop in the car and we’d borrow a gas can and get him going. We did.
Along the 6 minutes he was in my car there and on the way back he proceeded to tell me his life story. How he’d gotten into some trouble, had finally gotten an apartment, a job, and was going to school to be an auto mechanic. I told him before he could go on working on how to fix the cars, he should probably look into first making sure he kept gas in them. Sometimes, I guess, I think I’m a comedian. Anyways, he got the gas, I dropped him off. He gave me a fist bump. He got out of my car. Filled his, and drove off.
He was thankful, but did not make a huge deal about being thankful. I was actually myself thankful for that. People that over thank make me uncomfortable. As I drove on to my destination, only about 12 minutes off course, I started to wonder about all the people that really did pass him up. I then started to wonder if these were the same people that “texted” their 10 dollar donation to the Haiti relief fund. I started to wonder if those were the same people, that if given the “safe opportunity” would have “texted” the kid stranded on the side of the road, hard on his luck for whatever reason, 5 dollars to get some gas. You know, so they did not have to talk to him or anything. Don’t engage. Don’t get involved. Just send money.
But that’s kind of ridiculous isn’t it? He needed more than 5 dollars. He needed someone to give him a ride. Someone to take him 3 miles after the round trip in the 23 degree weather. He needed someone to hear his 12 minute life story, and someone to crack a joke with. Sending him 5 dollars in a care package would not have done that, even if it was someone famous handing it to him. In fact, I’d argue it would have done him little or no good. Bottom line – what he needed was someone to get involved.
So why are we (me included) so reluctant to get involved, to engage? Why are we willing to sniffle at a Haiti star-studded telethon donation television special, but not step up and actually DO something? I hear over and over again America is a generous nation, that we constantly give – and I’m not disputing that. But when did I (we) start thinking it was okay to just send another organization a check? I understand these organizations NEED funds, but do these people that ultimately receive this money REALLY want JUST money?
Or do they want a gas tank, a ride, a light hearted conversation, a fist bump, and then maybe five dollars?
I don’t know. But it sure made me think.