A Day Changed By a Stranger

windshieldI had a bit of an extraordinary experience today, although at face value it might only be construed as a simple act. Someone was lost and I helped him find his way to where he needed to be. Simple enough, that’s true – but the components of the situation are what made it extraordinary to me.

This is a busy time of year for most of us. I try to stay on top of things and be strategic in planning out my day to be the most efficient I can be in getting things done. Last night I made a plan to go to a certain area not too far from where I live and take full advantage of the places I needed to go to in that area to get everything done that might be possible. I made a list (and I may have even checked it twice), figured out what the best course of action would be in order to make the most of my time. I was on top of things, except I was leaving perhaps an hour or so later than anticipated.

Anyone that knows me certainly knows I am not the most patient of women. I probably wouldn’t even make anyone’s top 50 list for patience. I was slightly annoyed with myself for not getting going faster this morning, but quickly took stock of what I did manage to accomplish on the home front at least. Good enough.

I drove a mile or so from my house, getting close to the main road which would take me off on my errands when suddenly there was  a small SUV at a dead stop in my lane, stopped parallel to another small SUV on the side of the road.

“What the hell,” I thought. “Who stops like that in the road to chat? Why not pull over?”

It was misting out slightly and I observed that the vehicle directly in front of me on the road belonged to a local road construction company and the vehicle on the side of the road had out of state plates. Whatever conversation was ongoing between the two drivers certainly was prolonged, and I could just feel my aggravation level rising. Finally, the vehicle directly in front of me drove away and I slowly started to advance when suddenly the vehicle on the side of the road started to pull out right in front of me.

I slammed on my brakes, with some words no doubt bubbling from my lips (although I don’t recall what I might have said) and motioned for the driver to just go. Nothing. I motioned again, thinking that I might as well have this clown in front of me and on his way. The car went in reverse and the driver got out. He was an older man, a bit stocky, looking upset and heading my way. My first thought was that I somehow ticked this person off and was about to get blasted. He stood next to my passenger side window and just stared.

Now, I don’t make a habit of opening windows, doors, whatever for strangers, but figured if he had something to say, I should be courteous enough to listen. He looked pretty upset. I pushed the lever for the window to go down and looked directly into the man eyes.  When I did, I saw that he was not angry at all but very upset. The intensity in his eyes took me aback.

“Are you okay? “ I asked. “Do you need help?”

In a heavily accented voice, this old man told me that he was Portuguese and could not speak English very well. He was lost. Lost? Well, I could certainly help with that. Not sure how much English he truly understood, I asked slowly (and most likely loudly because I am that sort of dope that somehow feels slow and loud makes anyone understand what I am saying) where he was trying to get to.

“One oh two,” he said.

“Oh, you want to go to Route 102?,” I asked.

He nodded and again emphasized, “One oh two.”

240px-Road_in_the_fog_3Simple enough except there was no simple way to tell him how to get there, particularly if he wasn’t great with English or this area, and there were actually several ways to get there. I thought for a moment what the easiest way might be, and realized that in his upset state of mind, it might be confusing whichever way I told him. I opened my purse to see if I had a pad of paper so I could make a map for him, but again wasn’t sure what the comprehension level might be.

I looked up at him and explained that I was trying to think of the best way but didn’t want to confuse him. He looked so hopeful, and said, “Please, I give you money.”

The fear and the need on his face quickly made me realize what I had to do. I told him that he must follow me. I would bring him there. He looked hesitant for a minute and I explained that we would need to turn around.

“We turn around?” he asked. I nodded and said yes, that we would have to turn around.

“Ah, okay. We turn around. I turn around. You turn around.”

He got in his car and I pulled beyond him and started to turn. He already had turned around and was waiting now on the opposite side of the road. All I could see was his face, so hopeful and so trusting.  I wondered where he had come from and how he ended up in our small town, which definitely could be confusing for someone isn’t familiar with the area.

We drove for less than ten minutes, his vehicle at a fairly close distance behind. I’m terrible to follow so I made a real point of going slow, particularly on the winding roads that are second nature to me but perhaps a bit daunting to someone new to them, let alone someone who is upset.

I was almost in tears as I drove considering that this stranger who I initially was aggravated with, not knowing the situation at all, was now blindly following me with the faith that I would help him find his way.

I am generally a helpful person, or at least I try to be. I’m fond of saying, “If you could help someone, why wouldn’t you?” It just makes sense to me, but yet in that split second when I realized that this person needed help, my delayed departure and busy afternoon flashed through my mind. I quickly put it aside obviously because it had little relevance to the issue at hand, but still – it did come to mind. The person who stopped in front of me was most likely on company time and had somewhere to be and was not able to help for whatever reason. Maybe he chose not to, or perhaps he had somewhere very urgent to be. I can’t even begin to second guess anyone else’s actions, but I certainly can consider my own.

Just yesterday I remarked, “If we looked out for each other the way we all seem to do during the holiday season, very few would be without any other time of the year.” I believe that, and I try to live my life in a way that reflects that philosophy. And while all of this that I have shared thus far about today is far from extraordinary, it felt that way to me. I was struck by the reality that I was literally stopped in my tracks today, jut when I thought I had my day mapped out efficiently and thoroughly and my plans were altered slightly, just ever so slightly but yet it affected me in a big way.

I was so moved by this man’s plight, and I am not even sure why other than I empathized about what it must have felt like to be lost and alone and have no idea how to find my way home again. He had to rely on the kindness of strangers to see him on his way safely back to his point of origin.

I’m sure the drive back to the main road he was seeking (at the other side of our town basically) must have seemed long to him, being unfamiliar with the territory. When we were almost at the traffic lights that would set him right, I pulled my car over and he in behind me. He still look concerned but perhaps a little bit less so.

I asked if he was okay now and he nodded. Motioning to the intersection ahead, I explained that the main road at the lights was Route 102 and told him where taking a left or right would lead him. He nodded again and said, “I take a left.”

applesI explained again where taking that left would bring him to and it seemed like that would be okay. On the passenger seat, I saw a small bag of apples from one of the local orchards in the town next to mine. I wondered if he had been on the main road and seen a sign for apples, decided to veer off and pick up a bag, only to get lost in trying to find his way back.

He said, “I thank you. How much?”

I told him no problem and that I was glad that he was okay now. Again he asked me, “How much?” and when I looked at him for clarification he said, “How much money do I give you?”

I assured him that I did not want any money. I was just glad he was okay. He looked down and shook his head slightly before saying, “I was lost, lost for an hour, I think.”

I looked at his face, weather-beaten and well lived in, thinking he had to be in his mid to late 70s.

“That must have been scary for you,” I said. He nodded and thanked me again.  I repeated the instructions on turning left and heading toward the highway before wishing him well and returning to my car.

I sat there for a minute, before turning around and then watching him go on his way. I felt enormously blessed to have been given this opportunity today and profoundly moved by it as well. Nothing much seemed all that dire for the remainder of the day, regardless of where I went or what I did accomplish.

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6 replies »

      • Sometimes, something happens that makes you live up to your own words in a big way. it’s easy to help others when it’s convenient. What struck me most is his trust that I would do the right thing by him. Thanks for taking the time to write, Linda.

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  1. Pamme,

    You seem to have a way with words. This time you had me crying just because it was a touching story even if it wasn’t sad. Makes me wonder how my mother and her parents felt when they came to this country from Germany to live. I know my mother at 11 knew no English and if my grandparents did it was very minimal. I know even going to French speaking parts of Canada with my husband who speaks French is intimidating I can’t even image being lost in a car (age doesn’t help) and not truly understanding the language.

    I will say I think or at least hope I would have done the same thing you did and said follow me. I use to rush around a lot and still sometimes do but recently it has hit me that most of the rushing and stress by the things that get it the way that are out of my control is not avoidable or of my own doing and I try be calmer about it all. That said if two cars were stopped in the road like that I probably would have started out beyond annoyed.

    Thanks for sharing your stories I enjoy reading them.

    Christine

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    • Thank you, Christine! I was speaking with someone just yesterday who told me she came here about four years ago from Vietnam and barely knew a word of English. Her husband is Italian and he knew only how to say ‘thank you’ in Vietnamese when he met her. The challenges of learning another language, particularly as we get older and things don’t come as naturally, can be pretty daunting. I think of the leap of faith someone has to take when they come to a country and don’t speak the language and the trust they have to put in others. So many people devalue someone who doesn’t share their language instead of taking the time to understand. Appreciating your read of this, Christine!

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