We were driving home today during peak hour, and found ourselves stopped at a red light. The boys were playing and singing in the back seat. I happened to glance out the window and see the guy in the car next to us — in the turning lane — struggling to start his car. It had obviously stalled (or something worse), and he was getting more and more flustered as each turn of his key resulted in… nothing.
“Aw, dude…” I muttered. I remember all too well the times I’ve been in a similar situation. Fortunately, it’s been many years since the last occurrence, but I recall the heat that rushed up my neck and across my face, the sense of shame and anxiety, the desperation… The guilt as other cars were held up on their journey, or had to drive around my broken-down car. All of those emotions came back in a rush as I watched this stranger turn his key on. Off. On. Off.
I gestured out the window. “The poor guy’s having trouble with his car. He can’t get it started.” I looked around. Both our cars were second back from the front, and the lights were red. “Maybe I can jump out and help him.”“What’s wrong, Mummy?” Master Six asked.
But just as I said that, both traffic lights went green. The guy with the broken-down car put his hazard lights on and climbed out of his vehicle. And the car behind honked its horn. I was holding up peak hour traffic.
I had no choice but to start driving. But as I did, I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw the driver of the car behind broken-down-guy climbing out of his car as well. At least he was going to get some help to get his car off the road.
“Mummy!” Master Six said from the back seat. “Wait! Where are you going? We have to help him!”
“I’m sorry, “I said. “I can’t stop here. I have to move.”
That was clearly not enough.
“I’d like to stop, but then none of the other cars will be able to get past. Sometimes we just have to trust that someone else will help when we can’t. And there was another person getting out of their car to help.”
Master Six was silent for a minute. So was I. We drove.
“But what if he’s not okay? Can we go back and check? Please?”
I have to be honest: I didn’t want to. It was almost dark. I had two tired children in the car, and another 40+ minutes drive to get home. I really wanted to just keep on driving. But…
But I always remember another conversation — a conversation I had with my mother five years ago. I was telling her about an acquaintance I had, who spent his every Christmas morning at the children’s hospital carolling; moving from ward to ward, cheering up the children who needed it the most. “I want to raise children who do things like that,” I said. And she gave me a funny look and said, “But if you want them to do those things, you’d have to do them too.”
If I want my son to grow up to be someone who will put himself out to help those in need, I have to do it to.
So I turned the car around, and we drove back to that intersection.
I took off my seatbelt and opened the door. But that’s all I had time to do. Before I could climb out of the car, a few guys pushed the broken down car around the corner and off of the road. Turns out, they didn’t need my help at all.The broken-down car was still where we’d left it. So I pulled over to the side of the road. “You go, Mummy,” Master Six said. “We’ll stay here and watch you. Don’t worry, I’ll look after Master Two.”
But I didn’t have time to dwell on the lost time. Because Master Six had something else to say.
“You know, Mummy? I’m glad we came back. Now we know he’s okay. Are you glad, too?”
And I really was.
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