2-3 days ago I was out walking my dog. Ahead of me I saw people pushing a broken down SUV. I thought about walking the other way – why? Because if I were to stop and help, I’d have to attempt to tie the dog to a light post. Boots (my dog) has gotten off his leash before and is hard to catch. So do I attempt to wrap his leash around a post and help, but risk him running away? Do I turn around, take boots home and come back to help? Do I simply walk past?
I chose to walk past, assuming they would understand. One of the men pushing told the driver “there’s a dog behind the truck.”
“I don’t give a fuck,” was the driver’s response. Clearly he was angry about his vehicle breaking down – but fuck his shit for wanting to hurt my dog.
(Really bro? You want to hurt mah dawg?)
Being the traditionally non-confrontational person that I am, as I passed I simply apologized for getting in their way. The driver, in a resentful and acerbic tone, said “thanks for your help.” All the things I’d thought about above, about Boots, about taking him home, tying him up, helping, all rushed through my mind. I was pissed off and wanted to explain myself to the driver. He was physically pretty imposing, and I didn’t want to start anything.
For days, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Pissed off at the driver’s attitude, my own indecision, second-guessing myself. It was awful. This is what my mind does to itself, regardless of the size of the situation. My girlfriend and I have a disagreement, and my brain goes into overdrive, panic… “rushing thoughts” I believe is what they call it.
So last night, the exact same scenario took place, just a different house and different driver. I was out walking Boots very late, and I watched a beat up old Honda Civic roll down a steep driveway and bump the curb. I could hear the driver trying to turn the car over, to no avail.
As I was walking up the hill, he said “hey man, can you give me a hand?”
I had the same debate with myself, for about 5 seconds. I said “sure, no problem.”
I tied Boots to the light post, and helped the guy get his car off to a running start. He had just installed a new starter, but it was a lemon. He reached his hand out the door and said “what’s your name?”
“Jon,” I said, shaking his hand.
“I’m James – man, thank you! Thank you so much. Now I can get to work!”
“No problem man, I know exactly where you’re at,” I said. And I did. I’ve had so many problems with cars over the years, either because of lack of maintenance/accidents/battle damage from my time in active addiction, or simple bad luck.
The moral of this story isn’t “Lord, it’s a miracle!” Is it coincidence that these two breakdowns occurred in my neighborhood within 2 days of each other…sure, probably. I’m out walking my dog all the time, and I bet that sort of thing happens once a day. Is it from my “higher power”? That depends on the individual, and I’m certainly not here to assign divinity. If you choose a spiritual path in recovery, there are infinite possibilities and we all must choose our own.
But it is a lesson, and it’s a lesson that life gave me another chance to learn.
I believe the lesson is this: altruism is impartial and consistent. If I see someone in need, and there is indeed something I can do for them – even if I have to plan for 20-30 seconds about what to do ahead of time – then I should.
The simple fact for me is that approaching strangers is hard for me. Why? Because I am afraid. Afraid of small talk. Afraid of conversation. Afraid they’ll get to know me. Afraid of what they might do to me. Afraid they’ll want to maintain contact with me. Afraid of losing something in the process of giving to someone else. Afraid of my dog running away. Just afraid.
Our media, our culture, our environment in this country has long taught us to fear the “other.” That fear (or at least mistrust) was first instilled in me by family, then in school, then in life. What I continue to learn in recovery is that I have a lifelong calling to be of service. I would believe that whether I was a 12-stepper or not (I am). A person in need, whether in recovery or not, is a person in need.