Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Samaritan Strangers

Yesterday I went running during my daughter’s voice lesson. Away from my stomping ground, running in unfamiliar territory, headed for Lake Mission Viejo, I stumbled on an uneven bit of sidewalk and landed on my chin. Statistically speaking, I don’t fall often. In my too many years of running to count and share, I’ve only been injured twice and both times were because of sidewalk malfunctions. This is rather remarkable because for a number of years I would run with my dad’s dog off leash in rural Washington and the giant German Short-hair liked to gallop at me full speed whenever the mood to knock me over would strike, a sort of Kato and Inspector Clouseau thing. (Oddly, I felt safer running with him than without him, and a leash was out of the question, in fact, we didn’t even own one.)

For those who don’t know, chins bleed profusely. I had blood soaked clothes, streaks of blood down my legs, red spotted socks. I don’t know anyone in that corner of Mission Viejo, so I slumped towards where I’d parked my car. A woman in red mini-van asked if I needed a ride. I assured her I was fine (bloody, but fine.) She gave me a wad of napkins and then drove slowly behind me for some time, perhaps waiting to see if I’d faint. Moments later, after the red mini-van had disappeared, a woman in a silver mini-van pulled up and offered me a ride. By this time I’d been sufficiently humbled , so Grendal and I climbed into this Samaritan stranger’s car. My rescuer didn’t seem concerned about dog hair, or the mess I dripped onto her car’s upholstery. I made a joke about blood transmitted diseases and she laughed. She didn’t mind going out of her way, never once asked “how far are we going?” and after she dropped me off at Natalie’s voice teacher’s house, she waited until someone answered the door before she drove away.

This experience reminded me of a totally different sort of Samaritan. Years ago I was on a cross country flight with baby Nathan and my seat happened to be among a flock of Asian businessmen (perhaps thirty.) The gentleman beside me, dressed in what appeared to be an extremely expensive suit, tie and white pinpoint oxford shirt, didn’t speak English, which was fine, because neither did baby Nathan. And the two became friends. It takes about 6 hours to fly from New York to California, and Nathan spent the majority of that time on the laps of Asian businessmen. They passed him around like he was a toy for their amusement and pleasure. When we landed, Nathan’s new friends helped with my luggage. We waved goodbye, friends for the moment, knowing that our paths would unlikely cross again.

Fast forward to last Christmas. I was standing in a crowded store, waiting in line, a million things on my mind. The woman behind me began to cry, and not just a few tears. Sobbing, shoulders shaking. I looked in my purse, hoping I could offer her something, a candy, a breath mint… I had nothing. I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say or do.

Since that time I’ve tried to put into practice this thought, “Bumbling love is always better than perfectly executed indifference,” because whether we’re running, flying, falling or waiting, we all need each other.

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