I was recently in two situations where I really went out of my way to help a perfect stranger.
The first was when I came upon a car wreck that had literally just happened. There was a woman in the car with two young children in the backseat, crying her eyes out, with a crunched up rear trunk and bumper. It was pouring down rain, and she had slipped off the road, ran into a school bus (no kids on it thankfully), and then slid off the road on the other side. She was distraught when I approached her window, talking to her husband, and crying loudly. I gave her my umbrella so she could talk to the police, and I sat with her babies and kept them entertained for about 30 minutes.
The second was when I found a stray dog walking right in the middle of a very busy road in Hoover. I pulled off and was able to coax the little doggie into my car after about 15 minutes. I took him home with me, and we kept him for three days while we plastered his image all over social media, and made 15 big poster signs to put up in and around the area where we found him (granted he tried to hump both my doggies incessantly, but I still loved that little bugger.) The owner, a 20 something male, finally responded to one of our posters, and we hand-delivered the pup back to him.
So… as it happens, neither of these people said thank you. Not once. And in fact, neither of these people even SEEMED particularly thankful in any way. And this has weighed heavily on me for a week or so.
Didn’t that young man know how dangerous it was for me to pull off the side of that busy road, stop traffic both ways, and chase that little dog down the road until I could coax him to me? Didn’t he realize how much time and energy it took to make all of those signs, and distribute them throughout the neighborhood?
Couldn’t that woman see how wet I got as I spent 30 minutes in the pouring rain consoling her children, who were quite rattled from the scary car accident? Couldn’t she tell that I had my nice work clothes on that day?
Well, I have stewed and brewed on this for a while now. And then out of the blue the other day, a phrase that my father used to say hit me right between the eyes: “True charity is anonymous.” What he meant of course is that we as humans should do the right thing by people, especially when there’s no chance you’ll get recognition for it (so I guess I blew that principle by blogging about this but whatever – you get the point.)
I see a lot of businesses post their good philanthropic deeds on social media, especially near the holidays. They’ll pose with the down-and-out family standing right by all of the gifts they bought their family. And I always think, “No! That’s not how it’s supposed to work!”
So then why did I have such a hard time applying that principle to myself in MY two situations?
I’m not really sure. Perhaps I am just selfish. Perhaps my self-worth is tied to the admiration and approval of others. Perhaps I have just been tired. But whatever the reason, I am grateful that the lesson my father taught me came back to me at a time I clearly needed to relearn it.
And I am thankful to all the social workers, police and firemen and women, nurses, and caregivers who selflessly give of themselves every day, without getting or expecting gratitude. They’ve got this whole thing figured out. You help other people because it’s your destiny to do so, not for any other reason. You say “how would I want to be treated if I, my spouse, my children, or my family were in this situation,” and then you just act accordingly.
So I will not think of these two encounters as “thankless.” I will instead be thankful for the life lesson.
That’s what Dad would want me to do.