A while back, I was driving home with my young son in the back of the car, when I saw a car pulled over under the freeway overpass and a young black man standing by it, talking on the phone. Many thoughts ran quickly through my head – I’m white and he’s black, what does that mean in terms of safety if I stop? I’m middle-aged, he’s young, would that affect what happens if I stop? Should I ignore him as not my problem? Is that the kind of example I want to be to my son?
I decided to pull over and ask if he was ok. He said he ran out of gas on his way to his second job. He said he had a gas can and asked if I’d mind getting him some gas. He even gave me money to cover it. I took the can and drove to the closest gas station I knew of, then drove back and handed him the gas and the change. He wanted to pay me something, or at least do me a favor in return, but didn’t know what to do. I told him to pay it forward, to help someone else in need some time in the future. I’ve certainly been helped when I needed it. (Remind me to tell you about arriving in Italy with no Lira on a Sunday when the banks were closed and needing to pee desperately, and not having a way to use the paid toilets…)
The rest of the day I felt a glow inside. I did something good for someone! I helped out someone in trouble, got him moving again. And there was a piece of me that was ashamed of the moment of fear I felt about stopping to help someone darker than me. (Frankly, with how pale my skin is, most white people are darker than me, but that’s another story.) I don’t want to live in a world where I even think about someone’s skin color before I stop to help them. I’m glad that this interaction went so well, there was gratitude and kindness and no one pretending to be in trouble to lure in unsuspecting victims. (Man, an active imagination can be a bitch sometimes.) Most of all, I’m glad I showed my son that kindness doesn’t cost anything and can make the world better.