While driving home from 2001: A Space Odyssey a couple of Sundays ago, I stopped to give a stranded motorist a ride to a gas station.
Though I frequently see motorists in distress I’ve never stopped to help before. I feel that I should stop, but a combination of fear and selfishness has always prevented me from doing so.
The woman I helped was grateful, and I realized that had I been in similar circumstances, I would have been grateful, too.
When my car was struck by a truck in December of 2000, only one witness stopped. Nobody else even stopped to see if I was okay despite the violent nature of the crash. During a ride with Paul in March of 1998, my bike chain broke. We were six miles from Canby. Fortunately, a fellow stopped and invited us to climb in back of his truck; he gave us a ride to the bike store.
What makes me reluctant to perform an act of kindness to those who obviously need help? Part of it is that I don’t want to let myself be bothered. Stopping to help adds an unknown element to the day, invites difficulties with time, distance, and money that cannot be foreseen. Another deterrent is the risk involved. It can be dangerous to help a stranger. What if she is carrying a knife or a gun? What if he uses the conversation as an opportunity to gather information for some sort of criminal activity? (I sound as paranoid as Dave or Dana!)
Regardless: I believe that stopping to help those in distress is a noble act as long as certain precautions are taken.
It began to rain lightly tonight. The asphalt smells wet and the air is sticky and warm. The precipitation is a welcome relief after several hot days.
As I was driving to Thriftway to get Kris some Cherry Garcia ice cream bars, I came upon a minivan stopped in the middle of the street, its lights off despite the growing darkness. The driver hailed me, so I stopped.
The woman introduced herself as Naomi, a yoga instructor at Club Fit, Canby’s health club. Naomi had long brown hair and colorful clothes. She spoke in a quiet, spacey tone and moved in slow motion, as if underwater. She seemed stoned.
She had backed the minivan out of its parking spot where it died in the street while she was shifting gears. She pulled out her jumper cables and we tried to start her vehicle. The engine wouldn’t turn over though, and, in fact, sparks were shot from beneath the engine block. I haven’t ever seen that before (though I’m certainly no mechanic). We pushed the minivan into a parking spot and I offered her a ride home.
During the twenty minute drive we engaged in small-talk, the kind that’s generally uncomfortable for both parties (though much more comfortable than silence).
Naomi graduated from Molalla high school in 1993. She attended the University of Oregon where she majored in Spanish. She has traveled a lot but now lives at home with her mother, who is severely ill. Naomi takes classes at PSU during the day, studying early childhood education. Eventually she wants to teach kindergarten during the mornings and teach yoga and massage in the afternoons. She thinks children are precious.
I told her how Kris and I met: We were taking an evening writing class during our sophomore year at Willamette University. One night I spilled her tea on her notebook. Thus our courtship began. Naomi thinks that story is sweet.
We talked about our pets. Naomi has a puppy whose first birthday is tomorrow, so she bought him a turkey sandwich. She’s a vegetarian herself, but her dog loves turkey and she’d do anything for him. He’s adorable.
When we reached her house, Naomi offered to pay me but I refused. I told her that I’m banking on karmic return, that by performing these various acts of kindness I’m hoping to stockpile sort of cosmic goodwill that will yield benefits in the future. (Though this sounds much more supernatural than I intend, it essentially captures my motivation for playing the good Samaritan over the past couple of weeks.)
Naomi was interesting, and I’m pleased to have been able to help her, but she sure seemed stoned.