It was 1999 I was 21 years old. I was making my move from Pensacola, FL. to Misawa Japan but was making a trip home for Christmas and to drop off my car.
I admit that at 21 I wasn’t the most responsible person in the world but I had this particular trip planned to a T. I left FL early in the morning so I wouldn’t have to make any stops late at night and planned my gas stop for a part of Birmingham, AL. that I was familiar with.
I reached my exit in Birmingham right on schedule. I pulled into the familiar gas station and up to a pump. I slid my debit card into the credit card reader and received the scariest message any 21-year-old woman hours from any one they knew could see, “Insufficient Funds”. I couldn’t believe it. I had checked my bank balance the night before and had plenty of money for the trip but I guess I hadn’t accounted for an automatic bill payment.
I didn’t know what to do. I leaned back on my car, stared for a moment and started to cry.
Moments later a man about my father’s age approached me. I braced myself, keys in my fist protruding through my fingers ready to scream “rape” or “fire”. The man didn’t come too close just close enough to say, “Go ahead and pump your gas. You should have change, go in the market and get a coffee or soda, I don’t want you tired on your drive. I have a daughter your age and I wouldn’t want her stranded this far from home.” I assume he read my tags and saw I lived in Nashville.
I said “Thank you” and he slipped into his car and drove away.
I stood there for a moment in dismay. If I tried to pump gas had it really been paid for? If it hadn’t and I pumped it how would I pay. I just had to have faith that what the man had told me was true. I pumped a full tank and reluctantly went into the store to see if I really had change. It was true, there was enough change for me to get some coffee and a cookie. I thanked God, I knew he had sent me an Angel.
Flash forward almost 15 years. I am now a responsible adult. I have a good job and I’m on my way to work. I know that my disability makes me appear vulnerable and sometimes worry that I will be a target.
Every morning on my way to work I stopped at the same market. All the staff knew me. As soon as they saw me pull in they knew I wanted a croissant for breakfast, 2 chicken tenders to pack in my lunch and that I would be getting a coffee and a soda.
One morning I pulled in as usual. As soon as I stepped out of my car a man got out of his car and started to approach me. It’s a busy market, especially in the morning. Why is he approaching me. I don’t drive a nice car, nothing about my clothes scream “I have money”. What could he possibly want from me.
He stopped about 2 spots from where I was parked. He said “can you help me”. It was freezing cold outside but I stood and listened as he explained that a family friend had called him for help late at night and he left home in a hurry. He had left is wallet at home. His friend was now in the hospital and he didn’t have enough gas to get back home. I glanced at his car tags and assumed he lived about a County away. I told him I didn’t carry cash but to pull up to a pump and I would see what I could do.
I went in, picked up my planned purchases and paid. I then asked for $10 on pump 3 and another cup of coffee. All the clerk said was “Be Careful”. Apparently the man had been there a while
I left the store. I didn’t approach the man but I said loudly, “go ahead and pump your gas and you have a coffee waiting inside.” He didn’t say anything. He put both his hands to his chest and kind of bowed his head. When he looked up he appeared to have tears in his eyes.
I never saw or heard from that man again but I still think of him from time to time. Any of us could end up in this situation and there aren’t many people who would help. There are so many people now who make their living standing outside of gas stations or markets claiming to be out of gas or food. Most of them want cash and won’t accept gifts. Many times I have offered gift cards or food to beggars and had them decline. It’s become so common place that it’s easy for us to just walk past someone with their hands out asking for help. How are we supposed to know who is really in need?
Would you help a stranger in need, have you before? Has anyone ever help you when you were in need?
Fat Cat Lady
“Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.” – Princess Diana …