I wish that doing something nice for somebody else wasn’t so shocking a concept, but the truth is that doing a favor for a stranger will completely blow his or her mind.
Last Sunday, I was stuck in traffic on Noyac Road in Southampton. It was hot, I had the air conditioning going and traffic was moving at a ridiculously slow pace, but I really didn’t mind because I was in no rush. I know the back roads here backwards and forwards, but I’m one of those weirdos who rarely uses them because traffic has never really bothered me.
Anyway, to my right I noticed this guy, who looked to be about 40 years old, walking on the side of the road. He was carrying a grocery bag with two hands, he was sweating, and he did not look like a happy camper.
I gave him a nod and a smile, and as traffic started to move a bit quicker, I sped up and moved passed him. Then I thought something that should have been obvious to me earlier: “Why am I not offering this poor guy who is a walking in the heat a ride somewhere?”
I stopped my car and waited for the guy to catch up and I rolled down the window. “Do you need a lift somewhere?”
He instinctively looked at me with an immediate suspicion. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know, you look like you’re tired and it’s hot out and I just figured if you need a ride, I don’t mind taking you somewhere. I am headed towards Southampton Village.”
Again, a look of confusion and suspicion, “Really? You mean, like, you’ll just do that?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “I don’t mind, hop in if you want.”
The guy took a second to think, then got in. He quickly introduced himself (I think he said his name was Michael) and said he was headed to a place on North Sea Road. He looked like he hadn’t shaved in a day or so, he was in a t-shirt and he reminded me of my cousin who works as a lawyer in the city, but wearing cargo shorts instead of slacks.
We drove in relative silence, but it was comfortable enough, as we were listening to the radio. I could tell he was thinking deeply. About five minutes into the drive he said, “So you just saw me walking and thought that you’d give me a ride? Just like that?”
“Yeah, just like that. It’s not a big deal.”
“I can’t tell you how much this means to me right now. I just can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.”
I remember feeling philosophical during the drive, thinking, “What is wrong with all of us? Are we that afraid of each other?”
The drive was all of 15 minutes. When he got out of the car he thanked me repeatedly, shook my hand with an impressive grip, then used his other hand to grab the top of my hand and repeat the handshake. “I’m not really religious, but God bless you, man. That was just so nice. I just can’t tell you again how much I appreciate you giving me a ride like this.”
I got the feeling at that moment that, for this man, it wasn’t just about getting a ride. This was a guy who needed, at that very moment, just one ounce of human decency from a stranger to restore his faith in humanity, to remind him that there are bright spots in the world.
I admit, I need that too. We all do.
And it’s just not that hard to give a lift every once in a while.