Some people live their lives ruled by fear: fear of strangers; fear of stalkers; fear of burglers; fear of illness; or simply fear of the unknown. But despite the fact my mother has done her best to instill fear & mistrust of unknown people into me, I refuse to live a life ruled by fear. I’d rather trust that there are more good people in the world than bad.
When I was growing up, I remember being taught over & over to park as close to a store as possible, and under a light if I had to be out at night. My mother still worries about me if I have to go shopping at night, or if I’m driving home from someplace at night. At almost-48 (!!!) I still have to call & tell her when I got home. She still sends me emails about being safe in parking lots, and the latest way bad people – kidnappers & rapists – are luring women in order to snare them. Some of these stories circulate on the internet for years.
The news is indeed filled with stories about good people being hurt by very bad people. Sometimes I think watching the news is a bad idea, since they sensationalize the bad stories & tell them over & over & over, without regard for what percentage of people out there are really bad versus what percentage are really good, decent folks. When you hear the horror stories over & over, it’s easy to forget that most people are at least okay.
Despite being raised to fear strangers, I still would rather assume the best of folks rather than the worst. I know that as an Aspie (person with Asperger’s), I don’t have quite the ability to detect nuances of deception as the rest of the “normal” population does. And as an Aspie, I simply am who I am; I don’t “do” deception well.
But I still refuse to live a life bound by fear, which is why yesterday, I gave a ride to a stranger (*gasp*).
His name turned out to be Josh. I happened across him as I left our little local general store at the foot of the mountain. The Appalachian Trail (AT) runs over the top of our mountain & comes down & crosses the main road a mile or two east. Periodically, mostly in the warm months, we will see a few hikers as they pick up supplies at the local post office, or come into our little store for something, or even all the way (8 miles) in town as they hit the grocery store. Usually they’ll be in pairs or groups. They are pretty easy to distinguish, what with the big packs & all.
Josh was leaning on something, pack at feet, trekking poles in hand, thumbing through the AT guide as I came out of the store. We’re having our first serious heat wave, and it was 90 degrees on the mountain, but closer to 100 down below, hot & humid. Decked in lycra shorts & matching top, he was deeply flushed & very sweaty, but as well groomed as they come. I guessed his age as late 20’s.
My “Hi,” as I passed him by was returned politely, and then he said, “Excuse me…” and asked how far it was to a local touristy restaurant, and if they had burgers there. I told him it was a mile or two, and yes they did. His face fell when I told him how far it was. He thanked me for the help, and then, without thinking about it, or my mother & her advice about strangers, I offered him a ride. He seemed shocked that I would offer, but very grateful.
Maybe it was that he looked like he would be more at home in a gym, or maybe that he was well groomed, or maybe my first aid training from long ago had me concerned he was at risk of heat stroke.
Or maybe it was just because I’d rather assume the best of folks. Whatever it was that sparked the decision to offer a ride to a stranger, I’m glad I did, because in my heart, I know it was the right thing to do.
Josh was from New York, and had been on the Trail for two months, with two more months to go. He was unhappy with his job, re-evaluating what he wanted do with his life, so he just decided to do it. Alone – not a decision many people make. But I hope that out in nature, despite the timber rattlers & copperheads he’d encountered the day before, despite the heat which he clearly wasn’t dealing with well, he’ll find the answers he was seeking.
Maybe, just maybe, the simple kindness of a stranger – and a lone woman at that – offering him a short ride will help him re-evaluate the fear-driven world we live in.
When I was a buxom young girl of 16, I drove down alone to visit my brother at college, and got a flat tire along the way. There were no cell phones then for me to call for help, so I set about trying to fix it myself. I was jumping up & down on the lug wrench, trying to get the lug nuts off, when I saw a pick-up pull a U-turn & head my way. I had the lug wrench in hand – and was ready to use it – by the time he got to me.
The passing stranger, a lone man, had stopped to help me, not hurt me. He went way out of his way, taking me & my tire to a gas station for a repair when we found my spare was also flat. He brought me back to my car, and together we put the tire back on.
I told him, as I was about to be back on my way, that I was really scared when he drove up, and he said he knew that. He said he stopped to help me because he had a sister, and he hoped that if something similar happened to her that there would be someone to help her.
Maybe, if we all chose kindness over fear, we’d be living in a better world.