I had an appointment after work. With a 40 minute drive and an hour until arrival, I figured it was ok to engage in some last-minute work chatter. Ten minutes went by, and I really needed to get going so I left the conversation. When I got in my car, I saw that I neglected my lunchtime task: get gas. I went to the closest Shell station to take advantage of my Kroger Fuel Points–I had never been to this station before. As I was pumping gas, a woman in a gray Camry pulled up next to me and greeted me. She said that she needed help. She wasn’t looking for money. All she needed was gas. She was working as a temp for the city, and today was payday but they did not get paid. She had no money, lived more than 20 miles away, and just wanted to get home to her kids. She showed me her badge to show she was telling the truth about who she was. She apologized over and over for having to inconvenience me but kept expressing her desperation. She had been sitting at the gas station for a half hour trying to gather the courage to ask someone for help. I weighed the evidence in my head and decided that I needed to help her. I just said, “Sure.” She thanked me a thousand times as she kept expressing the severity of her situation. She actually hadn’t eaten that day because she neither had money nor a paycheck. When I was done pumping my own gas, I went to her pump to get her started. Suddenly it occurred to me that she said she had children she was trying to get home to and she had not eaten today. I thought, “If she didn’t have any lunch, I wonder what she plans to do for dinner for the children.” I asked her if she wanted me to buy her something, and she said yes. “What about dinner for your kids?” She thought about it as if she hadn’t even considered it before. She changed her story and decided that the children’s hunger was more important than her own. I asked her what she would like. She didn’t want to inconvenience me more than she already had, so she suggested that I just go next door to Popeye’s. I left her to pump her gas. I didn’t specify an amount because I was using my credit card–I was hoping she would just fill it up. I ordered one of the family meals although I failed to ask her how many children she had. I went to go back to the gas station, but I saw that she had already met me in the parking lot. She was concerned because I didn’t tell her how much she could spend on gas and she didn’t know what to do. I told her she could have filled it up, but hopefully the $40 she did spend took her far enough. I gave her the food and started to wish her well, but she couldn’t stop thanking me. She said she was praying for someone to be nice enough to help her, and this experience was very humbling although she is not a prideful person. The car didn’t even belong to her. She prayed that God would bless me a thousandfold. “God bless you! Thank you so much! God bless you! Thank you so much…” She couldn’t stop. I asked for her name and said that I would keep she and her family in prayer and that I hope everything gets better for her. I practically had to walk away from her and get in my car for her to stop thanking me.
I didn’t do it for the thanks. I didn’t even do it because I want God to bless me. I did it because I’ve been in that situation a lot more times than I care to admit except she was a lot more courageous than I was. I could never bring myself to ask for help. But what if I had not gone to that gas station? What if I went to the one I always go to? What if I weren’t running late? I don’t believe in coincidence, but you call it whatever you want: karma, reciprocity, a miracle. We need to be open for opportunities to help others. Because I live in a large metropolitan area, everyone is very familiar with street beggars, sign holders, and every other sob story in the book. Most of us are so desensitized to those who cry wolf that we can’t hear or decipher the genuine tears. But you know what? No one ever said that good deeds were easy. There is always a risk. Your reputation, pride, and kindness are on the line when you stick your neck out for someone. I suppose most people are tired of being taken advantage of by charlatans. But, if you’re not open, then you’ll never be able to experience the other side of the cycle. My mother used to say “what goes around comes around.” We shouldn’t do good deeds expecting for good to be done back to us, but it happens. Maybe not in the same way or even in a timely matter, but it will happen. Keep the cycle going and stay open.