I came of age in the Pacific Northwest. However, I learned to drive in Massachusetts. Here, you need to be constantly attentive and a little pushy just to keep your spot on the road. Folks cut you off, switch lanes without warning, and generally act like they are completely entitled to the entire highway. Around here, we yell at the windshield, “What? You think you OWN the highway??”
That is actually a defining trait of the Massachusetts driver- bitching out loud about the other drivers on the road. If you watch closely as you travel, you can see people’s mouths working soundlessly behind their windshields as they drive. Sometimes they are singing but, more often than not, they are berating some other driver who just did something stupid.
A couple days ago, I was in my truck, heading down a four lane road to the gas station when I came up on a car that was coming to a stop with its hazards on. Two people got out and started walking in the direction of the nearby church. As a native driver, I started my dialog about “who the hell parks on the road like that? Doesn’t the church have a parking lot? Somebody is going to hit them and won’t that be a mess. What were they thinking? Andover drivers…”
As I blew past them, it belatedly dawned on me that they were most likely out of gas. Well. A little embarrassed about my tirade and a little to far beyond to stop and offer a ride, I continued on to the gas station. While the attendant was filling my tank, I stepped into the office to ask the manager Dan if they had a loaner gas can. I told him that I had passed a car on the road that looked like it was out of gas and figured I could give them a hand.
“Kinda like a Boy Scout thing?” he asked.
“Yeah. I guess so,” I replied.
“OK. No deposit on the can but you need to bring it back yourself.”
So, with both truck and gas can full, I pulled out of the lot and headed back toward the car. The two folks, a father and son, were almost to the gas station, so I pulled over and asked them if their car was out of gas. Surprised, they confirmed that was indeed the case.
“Hop in! I’ve got some gas in the back of my truck for you.”
With Jose and Javi in the truck, I got us back to their car. On the way, Jose kept asking if he could pay me back or “make me whole” as he put it. I declined thinking that a couple minutes of my time and $4.00 of gas was just the sort of thing we should be able to do for our neighbors. As a Boy Scout (I actually was in Scouts when I was a kid), we were told to “do a good turn daily” which meant to do at least one thing to help others every day. This felt like my good turn for the day.
Fueled up, I led them back to the station to return the gas can and to make sure their car didn’t misbehave like some do after running out of fuel. Jose insisted that I wait five minutes so he could run to the bank next door and get some cash to pay me back. I sighed with a smile and agreed. He returned just a few minutes later with a smile of his own. “I know you didn’t expect anything in return but please allow me to ‘pay it forward’ today. Merry Christmas.” He discretely handed me some folded bills. I looked down to see five $20 bills in my hand! I looked up in surprise and he waved as he was walking away.
“Merry Christmas” he repeated.
I am sure there are a number of ways to relate to this story but I chose to see it as one small connection with another human being. Even if it was just for a couple minutes, we both reached out to trust another and found, not the danger and demons we all fear, but kindness and compassion from the heart of a neighbor.
Merry Christmas indeed.