In the fall of 1987, I found myself with a few free hours--something rare, as I was a single mom with two young children. While it was ...unsettling... when I wasn't with my boys, (I wasn't working outside of the home then, and so I was with them constantly), I knew that I needed some time to myself, too.
I left the house that day heading towards a special place that I'd often go whenever I had the chance--a quiet place beside a river. I'd go to this place and just sit, watching the water, listening to birds, and knowing--that at least for a while--I could be completely alone with no interruptions....
I'd just sit and think as I sat by the river; sorting through the memories and emotions of the last few turbulent, difficult months, and trying to make plans for a future that was, at best, uncertain. And while my family and a few friends would encourage me to come see them if I had any time--and if I needed to talk--I craved solitude more than anything else.
As I made my way out to the main road, heading for the mountains, I was behind a driver who was going far too slow for my impatient need to get to the river--I only had a few hours, not the whole day! But as I drove along behind her, I noticed that a tire on the back of her small car seemed awfully low.... "Not my problem," I thought, as we neared the intersection, "Not my problem."
The woman in the car proceeded straight through the intersection, and I turned right, still intent on my plans to go to the river and to be alone with my thoughts. But as I drove towards the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, I started to feel uneasy.... The road the woman was taking was one that led into the country. There weren't a lot of houses along the road, nor was there a lot of traffic. What would she do, I wondered, when the tire went flat and she was stuck out there by herself? What if she were my mother--or what if it were me? Would anyone take the time--or care enough--to try to help?
Knowing that I couldn't leave her like that, I turned around as soon as I could, backtracked to the intersection, and started down the lonely road. It didn't take too long for me to once again come up behind her, and I flashed my lights at her to try to warn her of the problem. She either didn't see me or she ignored me.
This was frustrating. I was giving up my "free" time to try to help this woman, and now she wouldn't stop, and didn't even seem to realize that she had a problem with her car.... I flashed my lights again and beeped the horn. This time she looked in the rear view mirror and waved at me--but kept driving.
It suddenly occurred to me that she might be afraid to stop because she was suspicious of my intentions. Women drivers are cautioned not to pull over if they're driving alone, especially if someone is acting "unusual." And I guess, to her, I seemed a little unusual--I'd been following her for miles, flashing my lights, and beeping my horn at her.... So I just sighed, backed off a little to put more distance between us, and continued to track along behind her on the country road.
Finally as she started up a hill, the tire was so low that she surely felt it, and she pulled over to the side of the road. I pulled up behind her--maybe 20-30 feet away--got out of my car and stood there, hoping that she could see that I wasn't a threat. I called to her, asking if she needed any help, or if she needed a ride.
She got out of the car at that point, and said that she lived just over the next hill. She said that the tire was probably ruined, anyhow, and that she'd just drive on home and her husband would take care of it.
She seemed really surprised that I'd followed her for so long--and she also seemed genuinely grateful that I would be concerned enough to drive so far out of my way. I felt a little guilty about my earlier irritation, but I also felt sort of good about it, too--knowing that following her had been the "right" thing to do, even if I, at first, hadn't wanted to get involved.
She thanked me again, and I got back in my car. As I turned around and headed out to the main road, a strong thought "flashed" in that for my kindness, I would someday receive help from a stranger when I needed it. It was the type of "thought flash" that seemed to come from outside of myself, and I tried to "argue," saying that "kindness" hadn't had a whole lot to do with it. My actions had largely been motivated by the guilt I would have felt if I'd stuck to my plans and something had happened to her, and I thought-replied that it wasn't as much "kindness" as somehow feeling "obligated" to keep an eye on her!
The thought flashed at me again, reminding me that we are all family--and that no acts of kindness ever go unnoticed. I decided not to argue anymore--it was a little weird, anyhow, to be having a non-verbal debate like this--and as I reached the main road again, I decided that I still had time for a quick trip to the river. As I sat there watching the water sparkle and listening to it gurgle over the rocks, the day just seemed to be a little warmer and a little prettier than when I'd started out, and my future seemed to be just a little less frightening....
Some months later, in the middle of an unusually cold stretch of weather, I was at home, talking on the phone with a friend. I was telling her that we'd had several snowstorms in a row, and I couldn't get out of my driveway--or even out of my front door--because the snow had drifted so high. I told her that we had enough supplies in the house, and we hadn't lost electricity, but I couldn't leave my children in the house alone (they were just barely 4 and less than a year, at the time) long enough to go out of the back door to start trying to dig us out.
As I was telling her this, I became aware of a strange sound--a scraping, "wheezing" sound--and I told my friend to hang on while I checked to see what was going on. As I looked out of the window, a man I'd never seen before was shoveling a path from my front door to my car. That image had barely registered when I looked up and saw a bulldozer coming down my driveway! I told my friend what was going on, and she said, "You and your 'coincidences'!" It did seem odd, since I was just talking about being snowed in and how I couldn't leave the house to try to shovel....
I opened the storm door (for the first time in a couple of days!) just a crack as the chilly air swept in, and the man who was shoveling greeted me with a big smile. I said hello, and asked who had gotten them to do this, thinking that maybe my parents had hired them. The man smiled again and said "No one." I didn't quite know what to make of that, and I didn't have hardly any money, but I offered to pay him for his time. He refused to take any payment, and with another smile, he said that he and his friend on the bulldozer just thought I might need a little help--and they were glad to be of service.
I thanked him repeatedly, while at the same time a dozen suspicious thoughts raced through my head... Why did they think I needed help? Did people know I was now alone with my young children? Was I safe here? Who were these men? I'd never seen them before, although I assumed they lived in my neighborhood somewhere if they knew anything about me....
At that point a strong thought "flashed" in--that for the kindness I had shown a few months before to the woman in the car, a kindness was being returned. The thought continued there was no need to be "suspicious" about it--to just be thankful and to know that God-inspired kindness was how life was supposed to work....
By the time the men had finished, my front door opened all the way, my walkway was snow-free, the driveway was clear--and my car had been cleaned off, too--all thanks to this "random act of kindness" by two strangers.
While I still assume that these men must have lived in my neighborhood, I'd never seen them before that cold winter day. And given the small town in which I live, what's kind of funny is that I have never seen them again....