By Andy Young
Black Rhinos, Cross River Gorillas, and Sumatran Elephants are just three of the rapidly-vanishing species that are currently on the officially endangered list, and thinking about that sad fact reminded me of a memorable interaction I had a little over two decades ago.
The man obviously wanted a ride. I told him I was only going south for two exits, but it turned out that where he needed to go was located off the same exit I was headed for. I told him to hop in, and off we went.
Clearly down on his luck, he wasn’t terribly specific about whatever misfortunes had befallen him. He seemed nice enough, and while what he related of his situation was regrettable, he wasn’t complaining or cursing the fates. To me he just seemed like a decent guy who had been victimized by more than his share of adversity.
He told me I could drop him off at the highway exit but doing that would have left him with a lengthy wait or a lengthy walk, so I told him I’d take him wherever he needed to go. It turned out that dropping him off in the parking lot of a one-story cinder block motel in a run-down area of town really wasn’t all that far out of my way. I offered him a bit of money, for which he thanked me. However, he refused to take it, insisting that my showing him a little kindness was more than enough.
The 20 or so minutes I spent with that man made me feel both blessed and fortunate to have everything that I did, and good about having selflessly done something nice for a fellow human being. Eminently satisfied with myself, when I got back to where I was staying, I called my wife to tell her about my day. Leading with the story of the hitchhiker, I expected she’d be impressed by her husband’s magnanimous gesture, but more likely overwhelmed with awe over his random act of kindness.
She was neither of those things. Not only was she not thrilled about my picking up the hitchhiker she was appalled and irate. She accurately pointed out that I had just become the father of an infant son. She added that I had no way of knowing whether that man thumbing a ride was on drugs, armed, an escaped convict, a violent criminal, a sex offender, or some terrible combination of those things. Had he been any of them, the consequences could have been dire.
I was initially taken aback by her reaction, but then, upon sober reflection, realized she was probably right. I was indeed responsible for others besides myself, and because of that my humanitarian gesture, while noble, was an unnecessarily risky one. When I called her back, I promised not to pick up any more strangers on the side of the road.
For what it’s worth, I’ve kept that promise. But that’s not solely because I feel any particular loyalty to my ex-spouse, the mother of our three children.
Black Rhinos, Cross River Gorillas, and Sumatran Elephants are endangered largely because of environmental factors. Other things, however, are disappearing for reasons more societal than ecological.
Like hitchhikers. I haven’t seen another one since that day. <
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