I Gave a Stranger a Ride and Lived to Tell the Tale

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I Gave a Stranger a Ride and Lived to Tell the Tale

We’ve all been there, right? We were out and about, heading to the grocery store, the bank, the laundromat…when we see him. Her. A person walking in the rain or walking in the snow or walking when it’s too cold or too hot.

Did we drive on by and justify our actions with thoughts like, “What if they attack me?” or “Oh, I’m sure they have a cellphone and can get help if they need it,” and other things that try to make us feel better about ignoring someone who might need help.

Baby Steps

I took little steps at first. The first two times, I nervously asked (at two different times) if the guy needed a ride and was turned down. One of them was a neighbor but not really someone I knew all that well. Still. I decided to be intentional with my service. When I saw the guy walking down the road and it was -13* outside, I pulled up and asked if he needed a ride. He was a younger guy, big, made all the more frightening by the snot plastered to his face and the miserable wind that had whipped his cheeks into a hard, cold, painful red.

He said he was just walking to a particular store, somewhere way to far to walk on such a cold, cold day. So, I told him to get in. In fact, I may have used  my mom voice. And, he did.

Do you know what he said? The very first thing: “Thank you! People are a lot nicer here in [my small town] than they are in [nearby big city]. No one ever stopped for me there!” I could have stopped there but I didn’t. I told him I would be back through here and could pick him pick up. He was hesitant but I stated it again and made the plan to meet him. In the end, I circled around, found him, and he hopped back in. I took him home.

It’s really something to think about it, isn’t it? I had to trust that I could do this, he had to trust me with his address. Really, we both had to trust that neither would harm the other, right? He had to trust that I would take him home and not drop him off in the middle of nowhere and I had to trust that he would behave, too.

Love Thy Neighbor

Be the light. While I’m not going to go all Christian on you right now, I will say that there are many, many places in the Bible that mention loving your neighbor, recognizing others as your brothers and sisters…yet we don’t.

Instead, we finger-point and argue about political issues and completely stop seeing others around us that could use our help, our service. When did we become so blind?

I’ve gotten into heated conversations in Sunday School classes about not making excuses. Someone said that a member of the food pantry didn’t even want to help out there any longer because “some of the people coming in have nicer cars than they do!” Hard times happen. Maybe the car is borrowed. Maybe it was a purchase made during better days. Maybe it was a gift. Maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t even matter.

Jesus didn’t say, “Hey folks, here’s what I want you to do. Help your neighbors, help the people around you in need…but only if you can verify first that they really need your help. If they drive a better car than you, if they wear nicer clothing than you, if they don’t seem beaten down just yet, then don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’s just a scam.”

Nope, he didn’t say that. Not even a little.

Been There, Done That

But I’ve been there. We’ve been through job loss. We know what it’s like to be on the other side of things–and we didn’t wear ratty clothes or drive a clunker. Luckily, we got through it thanks in part to help from OUR neighbors before things could get really bad. Not everyone who needs help is going to LOOK like they need help and I don’t think it is our job to judge that in the first place. Whatever they do with the help received, well, that’s on them.

I’ve heard the excuses, heck, I’ve made the excuses! I’ve gone through what could happen and I’ve weighed the pros and cons. For a long time, much too long, I let the “what ifs” hold me back! But at the end of my day and, really, at the end of my life, I want to be able to look back, smile, and KNOW that I’ve made a difference.

I could point to the story of the Good Samaritan and mention that that person lived in even GREATER danger. It was common, COMMON for people to play hurt and mug others. Today? Not so much. Oh, it isn’t what the news would have you believe, of course, but what the news be without sensationalism?

You may have read through my previous articles and the examples of what can happen when you actually stop to help someone else. The many, many people we’ve helped that aren’t mentioned in those posts.

But I didn’t stop on my own. Not even once. This year, I decided to change that. This is the year that I stop making excuses and instead begin to live with intentional love.

Some people want to change the world. They want to save all the neighborhood strays. They want to save the environment. They want to save endangered species. Then there’s other people that realize that all of those things are good and fine but we also need to save each other.

That’s what I want to be. That’s where I want to be. That’s where I need to be.

Be the light. Be the example. Life is too short to make excuses. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? As a Christian, I’m kind of counting on going somewhere better after I die.

Does it Really Matter?

I’ve been told that “with age comes wisdom” as though my desire to help people is because I’m young, although I wouldn’t have thought I’d be told that while in my mid-thirties! Shrugging off the offensive implications in that statement, my desire to help people is based on this: love thy neighbor.” I don’t believe wisdom comes with age. I believe that wisdom comes from experience.

In our experience? Helping stranded people or those walking in horrible weather because they don’t have a working car has created a firm belief that THIS is the way it should be. The exhilaration that comes from doing the right thing is an amazing feeling.

If the thought of helping others in this way makes you angry, makes you feel defensive, makes you come up with all sorts of “what ifs” that you want to share with me, then what does that mean? It means that this is striking a chord with you deep down, maybe even deep, deep down, because you, too, recognize that it’s an excuse. I know because, like I’ve already said–I did it too! I made the excuses: I don’t have time, I’m already late, I’m a woman, I’m alone, I’m with the kids.

So, fine. Say that I’m silly because I’m in my mid-thirties and that I’m putting myself or our sons in danger. My experience has taught me otherwise. I’ve traveled this fine state of ours, I’ve talked to people from one end of it to the other, and I know that people are generally good. At the end of the day, I know that this example of radical love will have a much stronger effect on our boys and on our lives and on the lives of everyone we meet than any supposed “threats” that my imagination could cook up to stop me. What effect will it have on the people I’ve helped? People who have never been helped before?

I recently read that one of my previously Featured Indiana Bloggers was stuck in the snow at the side of the road with her sick son. She watched as over 100 cars passed her by! She got waves, honks, even “the finger.” One woman took the time to slow down, roll down her window, and yell, “Good luck!” before she zoomed away. Finally, one person did stop: a high school kid. He helped get her out and she was able to get HOME.

Be The Example

I’ve been told that maybe this isn’t everyone’s calling. To that, I can’t help but say NO. Treating everyone as a brother or a sister means you help, right? A calling is more applicable to the kind of job, to your career choice, that you feel compelled to do, even when it isn’t easy. It’s why people become nurses and social workers and police officers and fire fighters. You do what you do because it feels like what you are meant to do. It can’t be easy to stitch up a gaping wound or take a child out of a broken home (and we certainly know the people in those fields aren’t typically rolling in it either). No, they do it because it is what they were called to do. They felt it so strongly that it didn’t matter if the pay wasn’t amazing, if the hours were kind of lousy, and the risk involved emotionally or physically or mentally was huge.

But helping others? Everyone is meant for this. They are meant to be radically loving. To embrace a stranger with the same willingness that they would embrace a friend. To stop making excuses, to open your heart, your soul, and your mind, and try to BE THE EXAMPLE. To stop settling or substituting…”Well, I would stop for the car at the side of the road but I just helped out at the food pantry so I’ve already done my duty for the day.” As a member of the human race: your duty is never done. Until everyone is fed, clothed, housed and loved, your duty does. Not. End.

We’ve experienced more than a few wonderful things as a result of our desire, of our willingness to look at strangers as people that we just don’t know yet. Really, I believe that traveling around for little Indiana has had a huge part in that. We’ve met so many people that surprised us with THEIR story. Once you start talking to a lot of people, people that you may have thought were quite different from you, you realize no one is quite so different after all. Not at their core, anyway.

Experience has taught us that radical love is life changing. It’s bringing a meal to a family that has been dealing with illness. It’s plowing driveways. It’s sending a relevant book to someone because you think it just might help. And, yes, it is even stopping at the side of the road to make sure everything and everyone is okay.

One Day at a Time

It might take baby steps. You might feel more comfortable to call in someone stranded at the side of the road. Then do it! You might feel more comfortable leaving food anonymously for a family that you think could use it. Then do it! You might feel more comfortable passing out food at the local food pantry. Then do it! But don’t just stop there. Don’t let yourself get too comfortable, not when there’s a whole WORLD of good you could do!

Make a conscious effort to do whatever your goal is. Want to stop for stranded motorists? Then when you sit down in your car, say to yourself, “Today, I’m going to stop for everyone I see on my side of the road.” Then DO it! When you see a stopped car with the hazard lights flashing you won’t hem and haw. You will be committed and, trust me, it makes a difference in how you react.

So, go with your gut. If you pull up and someone has a few off vibes or as you get closer you just don’t feel right, then fine. Call it in. Just do SOMETHING. Don’t get so comfortable in the busy of every day that you lose sight of what is important: people.

I don’t want to reach my golden years, to look around and think, “You know, I probably could have done a few things differently.” I don’t want to be able to point to my family, to my husband, as examples of the good works that have been done without having a heap of my own.

As Ghandi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Well, that’s the change I wish to see and I’m going to work very, very hard to achieve it. I’m working toward pushing myself to do the things that may not always be the easiest, the most comfortable, the most secure, but the things that I know in my heart of hearts are right.

Are you with me? 

Be The Change

Be The Change

Small Towns: Destinations, not Drive-Thrus! I’m Jessica Nunemaker and THIS is little Indiana!

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By |2014-02-17T10:02:55+00:00February 17th, 2014|Creating Community, Extras, Little Towns|2 Comments

About the Author:

Jessica Nunemaker is the Owner of Little Indiana.com. More than a website, Little Indiana is a book, "Little Indiana: Small Town Destinations" (IU Press) awarded first place in the "Best in Indiana Journalism for a Nonfiction Book" by the Indiana Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Little Indiana is also a bi-monthly newspaper column in a local paper and a PBS segment on the former Emmy award-winning program, "The Weekly Special."

2 Comments

  1. Jessica Nunemaker February 17, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    Wow! That’s great timing! 🙂

    I always think it is kind of funny that we welcome help when we are at the side of the road yet we don’t stop for others in the same situation, ya know? Either way, we are pretty vulnerable! Glad to hear you feel better and motivated to help others. It ISN’T easy but OH is it rewarding!

  2. Sara P. February 17, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you I was thinking of you today. I was actually ashamed that I didn’t stop and offer someone a ride. It was snowing and he was walking along the side of the road. Since your first post about this I have made an effort to help people stranded or out walking in poor conditions. It had always been a little scary to do, but everyone has always been so appreciative and I have not regretted a single stop. I was even blessed a few weeks ago when 4 strangers in their Sunday best stopped and pushed me out of a parking lot where I was stuck in the snow. Thank you for the reminder today. You have renewed my resolve to help others 🙂 Safe travels to you and your family!

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