Column: Small Pond
Hampton Union, July 31
By Amy Kane
Against my will, I became a better person for an hour last Thursday. An involuntary Good Samaritan. It was my husband’s fault.
I wish there were more people in the world who would drop what they’re doing to help a stranger. But, I was thinking as I drove east with the morning sun in my eyes, does it have to be me right now? Before breakfast?
On Route 1A, Ocean Boulevard, just south of the North Hampton/Hampton line, my husband was zipping along on his Gary Fisher Zebrano and came across a fellow bicyclist in distress — a piece of glass had punctured his tire. My husband stopped to lend a hand. Couldn’t be fixed. So he unclipped his cell phone from his waistband and called home.
“I’m with a guy — he’s on vacation — his bike broke. Shredded his tire. I said you would give him a ride back to his rental house in Seabrook Beach. Is that OK? I’m here with him now and I’ll wait for you to get here.”
Problem one: My husband’s pickup truck, with room in the flatbed for a bike, was still hitched to the boat from last night’s fishing trip.
“Take Anna’s car. There’s room.”
Problem two: her old Volvo wagon was running on empty, as usual. The gas gauge is broken and she keeps track of mileage. “Don’t go over 200,” she mumbled sleepily. Better not risk it.
“OK,” said my husband, “bring your car and we’ll put the back seats down.”
Problem three: I don’t wanna.
I have to get dressed, brush my teeth, sort out my hair, then make small talk with somebody new. I have a story I’m working on, and a deadline. I’ve only had one cup of coffee. Drive all the way to Seabrook Beach, through crowded Hampton Beach on a perfect beach day? It wasn’t my idea to rescue some guy I don’t even know. Why should I care?
But, of course, I had to go. What kind of person would say no at this point? I imagined my husband having to turn to the guy with the shredded tire and say, “My wife says walk.”
I think we live in a place where people help each other. As a newspaper correspondent, mom and member of a community, I have sometimes been thrown onto the front lines of helpfulness. Call it peer pressure, raised awareness, following good examples — I feel like there is a standard and, mostly, I want to live up to it.
Surveys show New Hampshire ranks low in charitable giving, but I think it’s because they’re counting money not time. We give time and we give it in small, unflashy ways, to the people around us.
We coach, sort clothes for charity, build playgrounds, read to kids, visit the elderly, ladle soup at the homeless shelter, paint schools, clean cemeteries, plant flowers at the bandstand common, shovel snow, serve on boards, commissions, task forces and committees. When a tree falls on a neighbor’s yard in a storm, we arrive with chain saws and sleeves rolled up.
We are surrounded by small, often uncelebrated, acts of kindness. Some are spontaneous and immediate. Many are because somebody else got us into it. The lazy many are galvanized by the cheerful and willing few.
Later at home my husband said he was sorry he co-opted me into the morning rescue. “The guy couldn’t remember the cell phone numbers of the people he was with. And I thought you were the kind of person who would like a little adventure, meeting someone new, helping out.”
That made me think: What kind of person am I? What kind of person do I want to be?
Gary, the guy with the wounded bicycle, was from Wiscasset, Maine. He was vacationing with family and friends, including his grandchildren. We talked about beaches, places we knew, and summer vacations.
When I dropped him off, I noticed a firefighter sticker on a truck in the driveway. Maybe he was the sort of person who would help a stranger too.