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If I Can Help Somebody…

May 27, 2011

…as I travel along the way, then my living has not been in vain…is the refrain from this popular “sing-at-da-funeral-spiritual.”

Deep down don’t you just wanna help people?

Whether it’s offering what you think is the right answer to a rhetorical question.

Or giving what you think are good directions to the interstate. We all just wanna help people when we can. Right?

Ok, so this week fueled by a craving for BBQ ribs I drove to my old childhood neighborhood for some hickory smoked goodness. As I approached the rib joint a woman about 60 some-odd years old carrying what looked like a heavy box of drapery rods, walked up and asked me was I driving?

I told her, yes.

She asked me, “would you please give me a lift – I’ll give you twenty bucks?”

“No mam, I’m so sorry. We’re living in crazy times now”, was my answer.

Immediately, my heart ached for the time when a request like that would have been met with a welcoming smile, followed by a, “how far ya goin?” And followed up with a, “please, keep your money”. Boy, have times changes.

Only a brief moment passed between the woman’s request and my ribs to go, but it was time enough to wonder….

First, I felt like a jerk for having a tiny bit of fear inside, toward a kindly looking little old lady.

Next, I remembered that whatever you feel is ALWAYS true in some way for you.

Then I put the scene on my mental storyboard and here’s what I observed…

The woman approached me on a bus line – so if she waited long enough the bus would come. *Or she could have only had a $20 bill, which she could not change on the bus.

The woman had a cell phone – so she could have called someone she knew for a lift. *Or her cell phone could be not picking up a signal, or the battery could have died.

The woman said she’d give me $20 – so with $20 and a cell phone she could have called a taxi. * Like I said the cell phone could have been on the fritz.

A police cruiser was parked steps away – their PR slogan used to be, call a friend call a cop – so she could have asked officer friendly for a lift. *Or maybe she did. Or maybe she didn’t want to, with 2 officers in recent area news, for allegedly picking up a woman who appeared to be in distress then driving her to her apartment and sexually assualting her.

As I drove away with my ribs in tow, I saw her now across the street in between 2 bus stops talking on her cell phone, resting her hand on her package. So was this a kindly old lady sincerely in need of a lift? Or was this a grifter attempting to lure an unsuspecting mark to something sinister?

Of course I can never know for sure, but I wondered how different was my scenario from the countless scenarios children fall prey to with the promise of a glimpse of a cute puppy or a piece of candy, or your mommy asked me to pick you up today?

I asked my native-New Yorker friend, what would she have done? She told me, New Yorker’s don’t cozy up to people with strange packages. But now that she’s lived in the Midwest for a number of years she probably would have given the woman a lift.

It continued to bug me somewhat for the rest of the day.

I remembered when strangers would help strangers and it was safe to both give and receive the help of a stranger. I tried to recall when it changed. I couldn’t remember exactly. But I knew it had changed.

Then I remembered being in a small boutique recently and my sales lady complained of having cramps. I told her, “I know I’m a stranger, but I have Advil if you’d like. (Cue music: “If I Can Help Somebody”) ” I sincerely wanted to help ease her pain. She began telling me a long tale (I suppose) about how it’s not that I’m a stranger, but she’s allergic to Advil…. Unn hunn…sure you are…

Like I would have taken a blue pill from the purse of some woman I had never seen before and in all likelihood would never see again.

I don’t have a wise ending to this observation. I just wonder what would you have done?


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