Friday, November 23, 2012

Humble Hitchhikers

A few weeks ago, I was driving along a back freeway at night. The road was empty and I thought I was alone when I nearly hit someone walking on the side of the road. The person wore dark clothes, but I could see it was a lady. The nearest town was at least twenty miles ahead and we were both going the same direction. I flipped around and scoped her out the best I could in the dark; she didn't seem too dangerous, so I offered her a ride.

It's funny how our intended good deeds always escalate into way more than we could ever have anticipated.

My passenger, whom we'll call Amy, had been dropped off at a shopping center earlier that morning by a family member that had short-term memory problems. She had been waiting for her ride for nearly twelve hours, and after making several phones calls to no avail, embarked on a thirty-mile hike to get home to her seven-year-old daughter. Amy's shoes were far from comfortable and her brown duds were frayed, holey rags.

Amy explained that she was in a vocational rehabilitation program, and her assignment that week was to purchase three new outfits from a department store where her program had an account. She had just completed her online degree and was looking for work. Her distress over her daughter was amplified by a failure to complete her assigned task; the shopping center had so intimidated her with its overbearing fanciness, the poor girl never dared enter the premises.

My opportunity seemed clear; I asked if she would like me to take her shopping — an evil I had long detested — but her reaction confirmed the date, and I was committed. The next morning, her daughter, "Celia," accompanied us.

Photo credit: elbfoto / Foter.com / CC BY
Amy wanted to buy some jeans and a new shirt before venturing into the "fancy" store, so I took her to Gen-X, hoping to find something inexpensive. 

Amy had turned to a vegan lifestyle the year before and estimated her size to be around a nine, but hidden under those rotting folds of material was a size-three frame, and jeans at those proportions were only ten dollars a pair: she bought five, plus two t-shirts.

Fully attired in her new vestments, Amy was now ready to face the all-intimidating store, which turned out to be nothing more than a JC Penney.

Only after I pointed out the regular folks in the store — a farmer to one side shopping for overalls and an elderly lady digging through purses in the nylon section — was Amy able to overcome her fears enough to do what she came to do: shop.

We browsed around for a while to see what kinds of styles she liked, and from that point forward, Amy never left the dressing room. Her daughter and I scoured every rack in the place, barraging her with a continual feed of different designs and colors, and nine hours later, Amy was down to her final choices. She had never conceived of having so many options in all of her life, and was overcome by such abundance.

Once we were settled into the car, Amy made one last request. She wanted to celebrate her graduation, and she wanted to do it with myself and her daughter, since we were the only people in her life who valued her achievement. I was floored. No one in her family appreciated her hard-earned efforts? I had spent enough years slaving after the pursuit of education to know what a great thing she had accomplished, and we celebrated heartily!

We went to an Italian restaurant — the height of sophistication to my new-found friend — and now to me as well. Amy had planned this event in her head months before finishing her classes, and we took our time. What an occasion it was!

Serving others always seems to begin with this magnanimous image of the generous benefactor, bestowing kindness upon some poor soul, but in the end, it's always the other way around. The giver is often the poor soul in need of enrichment.

If either of us was a hitchhiker that day, it was me. Amy allowed me to hitch a ride on her genuine spirit, her friendship, and blessed me with a change of perspective on a most important principle: gratitude.

How easy it is to take things for granted: things like supportive people in our lives, or clothing that fits, aside from our daily breath. Please join me in spreading joy.

Eliott, Humbled.

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