A hazardous Half-hour
It started out as a fairly straightforward plan for a free afternoon – Lindsay and I would drive over to Morningside and meet our son and his girlfriend for tea and a catch-up. It was when we got there that things got complicated!
We had paused opposite a cafe on Morningside Road so that I could nip across and check if it was open. As I opened the driver’s door, it was caught by a gust of wind, and swung open with real force. We heard a loud crack, and try as we could, we couldn’t get the door to shut. There we were, parked on a very busy and narrow main road into town, with the driver’s side door jammed wide open and obstructing the passing traffic.
This was not the gentle, joyful and relaxed afternoon outing we had planned. We did all the sensible things. I put up our EU regulation warning triangle, so that drivers could see that something was wrong, and I wrapped a luminous visi-vest around the door so that it was easy to spot. Then all we could do was phone rescue and recovery and sit and wait.
Given the reactions of the passers by, that time spent waiting in the car was both mildly embarrassing and highly informative. A small number of drivers took it upon themselves to give us advice. This tended to be of the loud and offensive variety, accompanied by some enthusiastic hand gestures and shakes of the head. Clearly they were assuming that we had chosen to sit in our car on a windy day with the door wide open just to annoy them! Most people, however, after a curious glance, simply ignored us and walked on by.
I was reminded of the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.25-37), where Jesus challenges us to be prepared to get involved in other people’s lives, even complete strangers, when they are in need. I know from our experience of living abroad, that if this had happened in the global south we would soon have been surrounded by a group of strangers, eager to put things right. Not so here! So, why is it that we live in a society where people are more and more reluctant to stop and help?
Perhaps it’s a combination of fear, frustration, and general indifference. Sometimes, (and I include myself in this), we are afraid to stop and help people on the road because of all the stories we hear of people being attacked and robbed, but more often it’s because of the inconvenience of getting involved. Sometimes we are too quick to judge someone’s situation and give advice from a distance, when there might be more complicated factors at work. Sometimes we are too wrapped up in our own plans and priorities to even consider putting them to one side for the sake of others. And so we walk or drive on, and try to put it out of our mind as quickly as we can.
The alternative, of course, is much more risky, but also much more rewarding – to put all our fears and frustrations to one side, and to get involved. In the long half hour before the rescue and recovery van arrived, one person did stop. He jumped out of his car and asked if he could help. In the event there was little he could do, but his small act of kindness changed our mood completely. It restored our faith in humankind, and reminded us of the power of compassion when it comes to making a difference, whatever the situation.