Yesterday, in the pouring rain, I saw an older model car stopped in the turn lane with a young man in plain clothes standing outside it, smoking a cigarette. He waived me down, and I hesitantly rolled my window down. He told me he was out of gas and had a story about where he’d been and where he was going. When he could see he wasn’t getting far with me, he pulled money out of his pocket and asked if I could go get him a few dollars of gas to get him going again. I told him to go wait in his car, that I’d run down the street and get him some gas, and he could pay me when I got back.
As I pulled off toward the gas station, my heart sunk. I had approached a man in need with such cynicism that my initial thought was he, a man in the pouring rain, was probably trying to hustle me. Only after he pulled out his own money did I allow myself to see him generously.
It took me a good while to go to one store for a gas can and another to get gas, and when I got back, there was another vehicle with him, who had obviously helped move his car off the road and into a parking lot. As I drove up, the man was offering this new person who had helped him off the road money to go get him gas, apparently not believing I was coming back after how short I was with him. When they turned around and saw me pulling up, they both smiled. We put gas in his car, and the other man jumped off his car, because apparently he had been there a long time with his lights on in the rain before anyone stopped to help. There in the rain, the three of us had a wonderful conversation, and I was returned to myself by a stranger who asked for help and another stranger who so openly gave it. As we got him going again, we all shook hands, and I told him to have a safe trip home. His eyes lit up and he said, “I sure will, and I’ll always smile when I see a car like yours on the road.”
I cried as I left, ashamed that I had become so disconnected from everyday people that I approached a man in need with my guard up. I had stopped when many hadn’t, sure, but I was already prepared to drive on. “Everyone has a cell phone these days…No one really runs out of gas anymore…People who need help know where to get it if they choose…” We hear messages again and again that we use to justify our callous approach toward one another, to justify not getting to know one another, to justify not helping each other. Our hardened hearts need to be broken open again from time to time.
Father Greg Boyle says we don’t go to the margins to make a difference in the lives of people there; we go to the margins so we can become different. I was reminded of that yesterday and how much I needed to be made different. I am grateful for the kindness and belief in me shown by a man broken down on the side of the road who helped, in some small way, make me different.
Nathan Dickson is an attorney with Jinks, Crow & Dickson, P.C.