I had no idea what I wanted to write about today…until I found an article online entitled “What’s the Nicest Thing a Complete Stranger Ever Did For You?”
I loved it. The stories ranged from hugs in the greeting card aisle to groceries purchased to tourniquets on bleeding legs. Amazing.
Most of the ones I remember have to do with cars. My first experience dealing with a stick shift was learning to drive my dad’s light blue Mazda station wagon. We drove up and down Happy Valley and Sunnyside Road, shifting and lurching. He was very patient. I was not. It seemed like I was a complete idiot and would never master it.
Eventually, you have to drive somewhere. Alone. That is the real test.
The summer after my freshman year of college, I worked as a telemarketer (don’t hate me!) trying to establish a new church – Living Water. The pastor was a guy from Oklahoma (I think), a friend of a guy friend from a church down in Salem. I needed the money for college, and with my friend and his cousin – both hilarious – working with me, I figured it would be okay.
Well, it sucked. I had a whole paragraph I was supposed to spout off, breathlessly, so the caller couldn’t get a word in. We used copied pages of the phone book, going through the whole thing out of SE Portland. We had to check off if they were interested or not and whether we reached anyone or not. Keep in mind this was WAY before caller ID. I might make 50 calls and reach one person during my 2-hour shift. It was a bit discouraging. Innovative approach, I suppose, but rough to gauge interest.
One caller, a particularly cantankerous man, asked if we had Sunday school for his cat. No. And we never will. Cats are irredeemable.
One such day, I was driving to the “office”, an empty space above the Yarn Mart at the Holly Farm Mall on McLoughlin. So now you know why it was empty.
I was doing okay, tooling along back roads, when I came to the intersection of Concord and McLoughlin. I was trying to turn left onto McLoughlin. I had to stop at the red light. And that was when my baby blue whale stopped. Stalled. Died. I tried starting it and putting it into first, over and over. The light changed from green to yellow to red. Nothing. I could not get the car to move. Mortified, I kept trying. The car would jump forward a foot and then stop. Cars honked behind me. People flipped me off, at least, it looked like a one-fingered salute through my blurry eyes. The light continued to run through its colored paces.
By the time she knocked on my window, I was crying. I had prayed and here, in all her red-haired splendor, was my answer.
“Hi,” she said, a lady in her 30s with long, curly hair. “Need some help?”
“Yes, please,” I said.
I got out of the car and she eased us across the street into a gas station lot. She left her minivan, with her kids in it, behind me. She spoke soothingly to me, making small talk. I don’t remember her name, or if I even asked her name. I was messed up. She knew someone who worked at my dad’s school, I think, and she attended a large church in the area. She saved my life. I am so very thankful for her. I was 19 then and felt like I was 9. I never saw her again.
There were others, of course. The man who stopped when our hand-me-down Toyota Corolla overheated *again* on I-5, coming back from my mom’s beach house. Zac was just a baby then, and fussy. The man, mustachioed and bolo-tied, was on his way to a pow-wow. He poured water into our radiator and helped us get on our way. What a blessing. Another time, a one-armed trucker helped change a tire on a van Barb and I were driving back from dropping off 6th grade girls at summer camp in Nevada. Yeah. That was a doozy. Lots of prayer there, too.
As a former city person, I find myself wary of helping people. Too many times I’ve been rooked by a sob story or a sad face. I know not everyone who is who they appear to be – helpless, homeless, lost. But I think I need to start paying it forward again. I want to be that angel for someone else.
What’s the nicest thing a complete stranger ever did for you?