(A picture of a white dove against a bright blue sky, with white clouds and a slight rainbow with the words: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7 (KJV))
Several years ago, I accompanied my youngest daughter, who was then in undergraduate school, on a trip to Cherokee, North Carolina. By the time we arrived back at her school, it was already getting dark. She suggested that I stay with her or that I stay with my oldest daughter who lived about an hour away. I insisted that I needed to head to my mother’s house, which was about two and a half hours away on some rather dark, long country roads.
About halfway through my journey, at one of the darkest and most lonely spots, I had a blowout. I was able to safely stir the car to the side of the road. However, despite the fact that I had four (count them) phones with four (count them again) different carriers, I was unable to call either AAA for assistance or my mother to let her know what had happened. Since I was not sure of my ability to change a tire and it was very, very dark, I felt I had no choice but to drive (on my flat tire) back towards the nearest town.
After about fifteen minutes of driving very, very slowly, I was able to get close enough to the nearest town to get a signal on one of my phones. My first call was to AAA. The AAA dispatcher told me that there had been several wrecks on I-75 and that it would be close to two hours before anyone could come assist me. I then called my mother and relayed that information to her. My mother (who combines a strong faith in God with a keen recognition for the ever present ugliness in the world) began to call her friends in the area, my brother (who lived over an hour away), and anyone else she could think of to try to find someone who could come and help me. Unfortunately, it was Wednesday night and most of my mother’s friends and acquaintances were attending their mid-week worship services.
As I sat in my car waiting for AAA and reassuring myself that I would be okay, I saw a car approaching me. I watched as the driver slowed to a stop and rolled his window down. He asked me if I needed help.
My immediate response was one of fear. He was a stranger. He was a man. He was white. I was a Black woman alone in a rural area. Confederate flags were prominently displayed on several of the nearby houses. My whole being was screaming: “Danger, Danger!!”
However, since the blown out tire was clearly visible to him, I did not have the option of saying that I did not need help. Besides, why would I be sitting in my car on that dark road if I did not need help? So, mustering all my courage, I told him that I had a flat tire but that AAA was on the way. He said that AAA was going to take a long time and that I should let him help me. I again rebuffed (albeit very politely) his offer of help and said I would wait for AAA.
He would not leave; instead, he kept talking to me. He said that he was on his way home from church and that he almost did not stop because he thought that I might be a decoy for some thieves and robbers. But, he said that he had been on the phone with his wife when he saw my car and that he said to her that he could not call himself a Christian and pass by a neighbor who clearly needed help. As he said those words, my fear dissipated. I felt feelings of comfort, hope, trust, and peace rush over me.
I do not know the name of the kind man who helped me. He refused any payment or other recompense, other than my heartfelt “Thank you so very much,” for his assistance. What I do know is that, despite our initial feelings of fear because of our differences and our surroundings, both of us looked beyond the differences in gender and skin color and recognized each other as children of God.
I often think about that experience as I am traveling, whether for short distances of for many miles. I also think about it during my day-to-day interactions. When I find myself letting differences of skin color, gender, religion, etc. make me fearful and suspicious of others, I try to remember that “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7). I do not always succeed, but I always try. I pray that we will all find the strength to try.