This year I have so much to be thankful for. I am thankful for a loving, healthy family and wonderful friends. I am thankful for a new job that is proving to have been an excellent career move. I am thankful that my mother’s most recent hospitalization turned out not to be as dire as we initially thought.
I follow the blog of a former co-worker who writes about her struggle to continue after the untimely death of her beautiful daughter, Hudson. Early on Thanksgiving I decided to see if she’d written about how her day was faring, this being her first Thanksgiving without her daughter. After reading the post and looking at the pictures of her vibrant, happy girl, I just sat, staring at nothing in particular for a long time. Although most of Mandy’s posts leave me heartbroken (this one being no exception), it was also full of joy, referencing her gratefulness even in the midst of such profound sorrow. It stuck with me all day. I’m certain it was a driving force behind my actions a short time later.
I’d known on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, that I’d have to go to the grocery store at some point on Thanksgiving. I was making fried chicken (sure, there was turkey and ham, but, well, my fried chicken has become a staple at every family gathering). I left, boy in tow, to run to Safeway for a few packs of chicken and perhaps a few snacks for later that I’d hide on top of the fridge so the girls wouldn’t ask for any (shameful, I know!). I needed to get gas so we stopped for that first. While at the station, an older couple pulled alongside me and asked if I knew where 30th Place was. I explained that if they continued going straight they’d notice the street numbers lowering. Each number street usually alternates from Street to Place, left to right (meaning 34th Street on the right, 34th Place on the left). I knew that 30th Street was on the right, so I told them to look for 30th Place on the left. If they got to the Safeway, I said, they’d gone too far.
Twenty minutes later, chicken and snacks purchased, I noticed the same car in front of the Safeway. And sure enough, there the couple was, seeking directions from a police officer. Well, this was just wrong. Had I given them incorrect directions? I had to know what went wrong. So, I interrupted and asked. Smiling, the woman told me that although the streets alternated as I’d said, it stopped at 30th Street. Thirtieth Street was on both sides rather than one being 30th Place. I asked if she was sure of her address. Sadly, she admitted that she was not; she’d gotten the street wrong. It was 36th Place, not 30th. The officer asked if I had a map on my phone. Bingo! My iPhone rocks! I dug to the very bottom of my purse to no avail; the phone was at home on the bed. That rarely ever happens.
The woman lowered her voice and said, “I don’t normally do this sort of thing, young lady.” She seemed embarrassed. “But, we’ve been driving a long time. We’re only in the city because a church friend is giving us money. We don’t have any on us and now that we’re lost I’m afraid we may not make it back home. Are you able to help us get some gas?” I looked at her and immediately a statement from Mandy’s blog that morning came to mind: “I am grateful that I have very, very few regrets about the time we spent with her.” Call me crazy, but I took that as a sign. With it came an overwhelming feeling that I would regret not helping them so I said yes almost without hesitation. The look on the woman’s face was one of gratitude but also surprise. She wasn’t expecting me to actually say yes. She took my hand and just held it a moment. It was the most wonderful feeling.
Here’s the part, though, where it becomes difficult to type. I don’t usually talk about this aspect of my life, but it needs saying here for you to fully understand why getting gas for them was a big deal. To put it simply, we are broke. We don’t live paycheck to paycheck. We try to figure out how to make it past payday. Strangely enough, though, I’d gotten paid from the new job that day — the holiday — rather than the next day, Friday. Just the week before I was lamenting my inability to buy a juice at lunch but here I was a few days later buying gas for strangers.
I drove ahead of them to the gas station, pumped $20 worth of gas for them and told them to follow me to the address. The woman asked for my name and number, explaining that they’d repay me. I wasn’t remotely interested, but I gave her the information anyway. When we got to 36th Place, though, the address wasn’t there. By this point the baby had passed out and her husband was so frustrated he was slapping his thighs. I stood outside their car while the woman thought. She didn’t have anyone’s phone number, not even the person they were going to see. She thought to call information for a neighbor’s number. While she did that, the husband and I chatted. He was a retired police officer and she was a retired nursing teacher at Howard. She’d gone back to work recently at the College of Southern Maryland, still teaching nursing.
He asked if I liked fish. Why, yes, yes, I do. He said they live on Solomons Island, he has a boat, and I was officially invited to their home because of my generosity. He hadn’t known he’d need a blessing that day. Funny. I hadn’t known I’d get to be one. The wife got through to her neighbor and got the phone number of the gentleman’s home they were visiting. She spoke to him and got the correct street: 32nd Place. She asked me to come with them to get cash for the gas I’d bought them. I declined. What I needed was more important: call my husband and explain what happened. I’ve been gone over an hour for chicken and snacks from a store that’s less than 10 minutes away. He’s probably called the phone and realized I don’t have it. This is almost too fantastic to relay.
We parted ways and on the drive back home I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt so good, so fulfilled. They were lost, frustrated, and penniless. I got to be someone’s unexpected One Good Thing. It can definitely become a good habit. Later, when Zoe had had her fill of her older sister still getting presents the day after her birthday and everyone cooing over her younger brother, my middle girl succumbed to the pressures of being in the middle. I thought about my experiences that day. I thought about the older couple and hoped they’d made it home safely. I thought about Mandy and Hudson. I thought about all of my hopes and dreams and how the world can sometimes be a big scary place even to me. I imagined how our family at that moment, let alone the world, must seem to Zoe. And then I hugged her as hard as I could.