Posted by Cecilia Leger on 11:18 AM
There is a destiny which makes us brothers
None goes his way alone
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own.

This quote, from Edwin Markham, is one of my absolute favorites. He states what I believe is the whole point of living in community, of realizing that our actions and words have meaning beyond our own little lives.

Last night in the middle of watching the Cowboys v Bengals game, I made the sudden (and very un-Cecilia) decision to go out and pump gas. I knew I still had about a quarter tank left, but I went against my typical urge to procrastinate, got dressed and left the house. When I arrived at the gas station at the corner, a gentleman approached me and explained his predicament: he'd bought groceries and intended to hail a cab, but he had been waiting for longer than an hour without being able to spot a single taxi; he lived down the street about two miles away, could I give him a ride home.

Every story I've ever heard or read about women getting killed or abducted came to mind. I hesitated. I didn't trust myself to make a judgement on his character simply by looks; I considered only the situation: we'd be alone in my car, at night, my cell phone safely left on its charger back in my living room. He took my hesitation as a good sign and began to pick up his many bags and case of water all the while saying, "Thank you; God bless you! Thank you so much." He had basically made himself a passenger in my car before I'd ever really made a definite decision.

I didn't relax at all during the short trip, and wondered how rude it would be if I asked him to keep his hands where I could see them. He tried to make small talk, telling me he was from Africa, asking me where I was from. He told me he was a Christian and had been praying for a way to get home for quite some time before I arrived. I answered his polite questions with as few words as possible and added no commentary to his prayer revelation.

After I dropped him off at his apartment building, I began to examine my reaction to the evening's events. There have been others to whom I've offered assistance. And typically, I love seeing the connection between people's prayers and how I "coincedentally" come into touch with them. There was the kid whose car broke down while on his way to take a final. I'd passed him on the road and barely noticed him because I was already late to a meeting, but the impression to go back was irresistible, so I turned around. There was the lady who was hopelessly lost and near tears because not getting to her destination meant she'd miss the one job interview she'd gotten in months. That time, I'd just decided to go for a drive during my lunch hour instead of eating at my desk per usual.

Last night, now that I think about it, was no different. Even though I always mean to pump gas when I get home in the afternoon or evening, I NEVER do.... I always leave it until morning. And I certainly would never go out specifically for such a mundane, boring task. But there I was, in the middle of enjoying my game with a sudden overwhelming desire to go out and do this.

I keep up with enough of the news to know my fears and hesitancy were well justified. But what about all the times someone has gone out of their way to help ME? I know I'm harmless, but the people who have stopped to help me don't. They, too, took a risk. I think back to the guy who stopped for me two years ago, in the middle of the night on I-95 when my car broke down at 1 AM. He let me use his cell phone to call AAA and waited with me until the tow truck arrived 45 minutes later: he said it wasn't safe for me to be alone. But, really, it wasn't safe for him either. He'd had no idea when he saw a car with blinking lights on the side of the road who might be there waiting for him.

This past weekend 10 health workers in Afganistan were killed by the Taliban. They had all devoted years of their lives to help the suffering Afghan poor. For their sacrifice, they received bullets instead of thanks. For each act of kindness, there are many more acts of brutality and senseless violence. And each of these makes us think twice before going out of our way to help someone else.

I think of my own response last night. I don't know that I'd be any more eager to help next time. I do think that it is wrong for simple kindness to die because of fear.


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