Thursday, February 11, 2010

Charlie, My Minivan, and A Lack of Arms

I've been thinking about an experience I had the other day. It's been refusing to leave my brain, so I'm going to inflict you with it. Sorry in advance.

Yesterday morning I was going over to my friend Letia's for some me time and quilting1. It was kinda cold and definitely rainy, so my minivan's tired wanted to slide every time I wasn't totally gentle with the brakes2. I parked in front of her apartment and got all of my stuff out of the car to carry in. As I did I noticed a guy walking down the middle of the street, looking a bit confused, pulling a bag-on-wheels3 behind him. He asked if he could use my phone, so I let him. He was wearing a baggy sweatshirt and jeans, smelled like cigarette smoke, and was very polite. As he talked to his friend on the phone it became apparent that he was lost and very far from where he was supposed to be. I couldn't help but think how awful that would be, since he'd be walking with his bag through the rain and apparently had been for quite a while already. He hung up and thanked me, handing back my phone.

"Sounds like you've got a ways to go," I said.


And suddenly I knew I had to offer. "Would you like a ride?"

He looked pretty surprised. I was kinda surprised, too, to be honest. I didn't think I was going to do that until I did. It was one of those things where you suddenly know you need to help. Does that make sense? I had a really strong feeling about helping him, so I flew with it4.

I called Justin to let him know what I was doing, shook hands with Charlie, and put his bag in the back. I unlocked his door and he opened it, just standing there for a second. He kind of patted himself down. "I don't have a gun or anything," he said, looking nervous.

I couldn't help but smile. "Don't worry," I said. "I've decided to trust you."

After that he got in and started thanking me profusely. He asked if he could turn on the heater, then offered to fill up my gas tank, explaining that he didn't have any cash to offer but he had his debit card. I told him not to worry about it. He asked if there was anything at the store I needed that he could get for me. I told him it was fine. Finally he sat back and we started talking. Almost immediately the topic landed on religion. I cleared up some stereotypes for him about the LDS Church. We had a good discussion about acceptance of people regardless of belief and respect for the agency of others to use their reason and figure out for themselves what they felt was true. It was a really good talk.

I dropped him off where he needed to go5, we shook hands again, he thanked me, and I drove back to Letia's.

Now here's what I can't get out of my head: I know most people would not have offered to give him a ride. Most people would have cited something about how potentially dangerous the situation was as the reason for not even entertaining the idea of giving this guy a ride. But think about it -- people used to hitchhike all the time, and while bad things happened, they were few and far between6. Most people in the world are good people. The risk is actually quite low, though it seems inflated because things like that get over-reported in the news and they stick in our heads.

And here's where I hope I won't lose most of the people still siding with me: don't we have an obligation to our fellow human beings to provide what service we can? Are we not obligated by religion to offer help, sustenance, and succor to those who are in need? I think we are, and I think this situation qualifies. Christ did not exhort us to help others only when convenient. There was no clause about only helping as long as it's risk-free.

I like to think that that act of kindness and the discussion we had helped change something for Charlie in a good way. I think it did for me.

1Woo hoo!
2I'm starting to seriously hate cars. There's always something wrong with them. Always.
3For some reason this phrase makes me think of fast food. What does Burger King call kid's meals? Something with wheels in it? Maybe I'm just thinking of Meals On Wheels. Whatever.
4As I'm apt to do. Great things can happen on the spur of the moment, you know.
5Which was a couple of miles from where we started.
6As far as I know.


  1. I think relying on the Spirit is the key. I'm assuming you had a good feeling about it because the Spirit was helping you discern. I've done something similar a few times but I'm not so sure I'd be brave enough now that I'm a wife and mom. I'm so much more scared of everything now! But if the Spirit nudged me to I hope I would! Good job, Mel. I'm sure it made a huge impression on him.

  2. Thanks for the post Mel, that's an awesome story. There are tons of hitchhikers around here, whenever me and Thom drive by, we're just like, sorry, no room, cause there isn't!... inless they want to ride in our trunk... and we'd probably get in big trouble if we did that.

    Last week, a strange impulse came over me. I gave a bum money, I hardly ever do that (usually because I don't have any cash). When he walked up to the car, he did have a strong smoking smell, but I wanted to give him money anyway. Thom thought I gave him a dollar, he laughed when I told him it was a five.

    I told him that makes up for all the other bums I've passed up giving money to in the past. I'm good for awhile now... or am I? You think five was alot?


    Good job Mel!

  3. I total agree that you have to go by the Spirit. You did what you were supposed to do, Mel. Good job.

  4. Yeah, if I had had my kids with me I don't think I would have done it no matter what I felt.

    And Joybeth, good job for giving a homeless person five bucks. I'm a firm believer that the giving is our responsibility and what they do with it is theirs. Justin and I have come up with something of a solution to that, though -- Subway gift cards. Then you know it's going toward food, and not McDonalds food, either. Though then that raises the question of whether you have the right to restrict their agency that way. God has repeatedly shown that he'd rather allow people their agency than make them do what he wants them to do, even if he knows he's right (as he always is). Of course, the gift card is a gift, so it's fine, but it's just making me think of all this stuff. It's an interesting point, don't you think?

  5. I think you did right. I've given rides before (even with the kids in the car) and I've never had anything happen. It's never been anyone who was specifically looking for a ride either. I agree that we have an obligation to people, but honestly I did it because I wanted to, not because I felt I had to.

    As for bums and money. I hardly ever carry cash so when someone approaches me I give them what I can. One time all I had was a meal replacement bar when I pulled along side a couple sitting in the median (they opened it and started wolfing it down almost as soon as they had it). Other times I'll go buy them whatever they want from a close by restaurant (I've had several memorable experiences there too).

    I applaude you following the Spirit.

  6. That's awesome! I usually tend to go buy food than give money. I've surprised more than one begger outside of Walmart with a sandwich :-)

  7. I hope you don't think I am a bad person for having such an opinion on picking up strangers. I do have to change my thinking. I have this fear I have to overcome. I really think that if I were to offer a man a ride especially at night by myself something terrible would happen. I probably would feel differently if I didn't have so many nightmares of men attacking me in violent ways so often. When I see people walking along the road or in need of assistance, I would love to help, but then again I don't want to put myself in danger either. If Paul is with me, we will stop and help. It does come back to following the spirit. I'm sure if I felt I needed to pick up a stranger by myself, I would. I think the Lord knows me well enough to know what I will and can do.

  8. Letia -- I certainly don't think you're a bad person! I didn't mean for my post to sound that way if it did. I definitely agree that following the Spirit is key in situations like this and I never see it as my place to judge the motivations of others. I was mostly just addressing the cultural mindset, if that makes sense. Thanks for commenting!