Last week I was privileged to return to Tennessee to see my daughter graduate from college. It ended up being a wonderful trip but it started out a little rocky. I was heading to the airport in Portland, about 45 minutes from our little town in Maine. About halfway there my car began acting up. I had noticed the temperature gage rising so I pulled over and tried to let the car cool before I started up again. I was attempting to get to an exit so I could have it checked and just as I came off the ramp the car started billowing smoke. My heart sank. My husband had flown out early for business and my plane was to depart in under 2 hours. I was stranded, alone, at risk of missing my flight, and completely incompetent when it comes to car repair. I couldn’t believe what was happening…
Now, here’s where things really get weird. Before I could even get fully off the road, cars pulled up in front and behind me. I was surprised and a little wary. I have had car trouble before and had to wait hours for any kind of assistance. It felt like these people were stopping to help, but I couldn’t be sure. We have only recently moved to Maine and I have no idea what the culture is here when it comes to giving aid to someone in need. I only know my past experience which is that people say they care but actually do next to nothing to show it in daily life.
The first person to walk up was a woman. She smiled at me and said, “Are you O.k.?” I’m fine I said, looking stunned and cautious I am sure. She gave me a sympathetic smile and said, “I think this guy is actually more able to help you,” and a nice young guy walked up. “Pop the hood” he said and in a complete state of shock I leaned down and fumbled for the hood release. ”Cracked radiator,” I heard as I stepped out of the car. “Don’t drive it anywhere. You can wreck your motor if you do.” Thanks I said, that is exactly what I needed to know and after a few condolences he was on his way.
I was so shaken I had to sit down and process. No, a cracked radiator was not at all what I needed at the moment, but what got to me was that TWO people had stopped to help me within SECONDS of my need being apparent. What kind of Twilight Zone episode was I in? Had I stumbled into some parallel universe where people are kind and thoughtful? As I sat there, dozens of people slowed down to make eye contact and see if I was Ok. In all, FIVE people stopped and got out to ask if I needed help. FIVE!!
The impact of their kindness has lingered. I have enjoyed telling this story to a number of people because it is a Goodness story. People took the time to stop, they were thoughtful, considerate, and generous. It was bewildering to me. While waiting for the tow truck a friend of mine called. I said to her, “Julie, five people have stopped to help me??!!” Oh yes, she said, that’s the way it is here. People will stop, and once we even had someone tow us just out of kindness.
It got me thinking. What is it about Maine that makes people stop? I am not sure I know the answer, but this is what I see. People still have a sense of community and connectedness here. They are not afraid to stop because there is still a significant degree of trust and a sense of responsibility for each other. The winters are tough so you may well need a hand from your neighbor. Many people are lobstermen or harvest from the ocean in some way. The ways of the sea are treacherous and unpredictable. These folks have a bond at sea that transfers to land. There is a Goodness that resides in Maine – the last American frontier.
I am telling you this story because it is important. I still believe we can restore a culture of caring in America if we refuse to fear or judge our neighbors. If we remember what it is to be human and how it feels to be in need, we can return to compassion. But we cannot wait. We must march this way together. I am not suggesting that we abandon wisdom, but I am saying we must embrace Goodness. I believe there is still hope for us, but only if we claim each other as our own. We can have the world we want but we have to make it so. The tagline for my new homeland is, “Maine – the way life should be.” I could not agree more!
The video below focuses on appearances and judgement but it brings home the reality that walking past someone in need is a choice – a choice we make based on what we believe. What do you believe about the value of your fellow man?
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31
Do you love your neighbor?