By Rev. Chester Freeman
Have you ever found yourself in a situation when you needed some help and you needed it quickly? I have and I would like to share that experience.
Last year I had a doctor’s appointment in Canandaigua. I left home early and thought that I would do a little shopping before my appointment. I stopped at Walmart and got a few things and went back to my car.
When I put the key in the ignition it wouldn’t start. I thought it might be something simple like the battery, so I raised the hood and tried to do a few tests. When I realized the battery was not the problem, I stood in front of the car looking somewhat puzzled and concerned. While standing there, I saw a man walking in my direction in the parking lot. He had a scraggly blond beard and a somewhat rough look to his face. I immediately began to be a little fearful. He was not the type of person that I would typically engage in conversation.
He slowly walked up to me and asked if I was having car problems.
He said he would take a look and try to help me. All of a sudden, I realized I had made a judgment about this man based on his appearance before he had ever said a word. I felt embarrassed and relieved at the same time. In our present-day society, where Black men are accused of crimes before having a chance to say anything, fear is a normal response for me.
Soon I was comfortable with the gentleman, and as he checked out the car, I looked at my watch and realized I had only 15 minutes to get to my doctor’s appointment. So, I asked him if I could pay him to take me to Parrish Street. He replied he would be happy to take me. When I offered him some money, he refused it.
As we rode along, he shared with me that he was a Vietnam Vet and he had come to Canandaigua from Penn Yan. I told him one of my neighbors in North Carolina had died in the Vietnam War and I had a great appreciation for the Vietnam vets. As we neared the office, he asked me how long my appointment would be. I told him that it would be about half an hour. He said that he would wait for me. I asked him if he was sure. I felt this was a real inconvenience.
He said that he had plenty of time, and he enjoyed being in Canandaigua, so he would be back to pick me up. I could not believe this stranger going out of his way to help me. This was truly a generous act of kindness.
When the appointment was over, I walked out into the parking lot and began to look for his car. I saw a car that I thought was his and walked over and looked inside to see if I recognized the seats. A white woman was walking across the lot to another building and yelled at me, “Get away from that car or I will call the police!” I quickly moved from the car and walked toward the street. She kept looking at me to make sure that I did not walk back to her car. For a few minutes I was really frightened. I realized that she thought I was trying to break into her car, when I was just trying to see if that was the gentleman’s car that picked me up. I thought maybe he was walking around the building and I would wait beside his car.
Shortly thereafter the Veteran drove up and picked me up. I did not say anything to him about the situation with the woman. I was a little shaken but just wanted to get my car situation settled. He told me he had talked with his son, who was a mechanic, and he would try a few more things with the car. When we got back to the Walmart parking lot, I offered him money again for gas. He refused. I told him that he had gone beyond the call of duty in helping me and I really appreciated it.
After checking a few more things on the car the gentleman told me he could not solve the problem. At that point I told him I would call AAA and have them tow the car to Geneva. He again offered to wait with me until AAA arrived. I told him that sometimes they really take a long time and I would be fine. Again, I offered to pay him for his time, and he said no. I thanked him profusely. Later he realized AAA was on the way, he decided to leave and return to Penn Yan. I could not believe the kindness of this man, a stranger. Ever since this incident, I have been more attentive to others, and whenever I see someone who needs help, even if it is just the small gesture of holding a door when someone has a bag full of groceries, I try to do so. I want to pay it forward.
This is an example of the Golden Rule, which we have all been taught. Did you know the Golden Rule is found in every religious tradition? This is probably the most universally accepted practice in the world.
Practicing the golden rule is really tough today. We are all afraid to help anyone because we don’t know if they are going to start a fight, steal from us, damage property, accuse us of inappropriate behavior or maybe just pull a gun. The day-to-day news just feeds the fear in all of us as it highlights acts of hate around the country. I could not believe the news report when a white woman accused a nine-year-old African American boy of touching her when he just brushed up against her with his back pack. How many times have we all bumped into someone standing in line at the grocery store while carrying something, or having someone’s purse or bag touch us? We live in an inconsiderate world. That is our reality.
How do we practice the Golden Rule in an adversarial environment? First, we live by principles. We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Second, we learn patience. The third way we can practice the Golden Rule is by putting others first, and thinking of their needs.
We need to remember to put our feelings of empathy into action.
A friend of mine, Pam, was eating alone at Wegmans. She saw a woman walk up to the cashier with her lunch. There was a delay because the cashier could not accept her check. Pam said the woman looked ashamed and had to leave with only a drink. Pam wished she had hopped up and said “I’ll cover your lunch.” But she did not, and she has regretted it to this day. Next time she will remember. Sometimes we have to learn a lesson so that we can put it into action. We are always given another opportunity to show kindness, generosity, and empathy.
All of the practices discussed in this article could be summarized in the word “compassion.” This is the key to the Golden Rule.