His words rang through my head as I drove homewards: “What’s the point in living if you can’t help others?”
Once upon a time, without thought, most of us helped one another, then something shifted. For years and years it seems we have been fixated on living out our own desires, which in a busy world means that we need time to organise them and enjoy them. Time, however, is finite, hence there’s little left to put aside and help somebody in trouble.
It was me being helped, not the other way round and it felt like a boon, for this hardly ever happens to me. Maybe I give off an aura of being capable, or is it just that few people go out of their way these days? I don’t know the answer.
My van’s battery had died on the forecourt of a really busy petrol station beside a mildly busy road. For half an hour I had been trying to roll backwards in a curve down the sloping courtyard so that I could roll forwards down the road to bump-start the engine. I had my flashers on, but cars just wouldn’t give way and if one did, others tooted at them so they felt the pressure and shrugged and smiled and shifted past, blocking me.
At one point, seeing a gap, I slid backwards, but another vehicle decided to shove past my backside and I had to quickly slam on the breaks to avoid a bump. But a car behind that one then moved forwards so neither of us three, which became five, could manoeuvre in any direction. This log-jam inevitably effected the entire forecourt and also the main road as cars trying to enter the station couldn’t. Traffic built up for fifty metres in the uphill direction and two hundred downhill. People were shouting at me, at each other, they were tooting, revving their engines. Wow, though it was a cold morning, I began to sweat.
Nobody was giving way because everyone was in a hurry so nobody got anywhere. All it needed was cooperation. I got out and acted as traffic control for a good ten minutes, dashing here and there as required. This still left me unable to move, for once I got back in my driver’s seat, nobody wanted to let me through.
After a while another VW van drew up and out jumped the driver and he asked if he could help. I quickly explained my predicament. Leaving his own van by one of the fuel pumps, he did what I had done for so many that morning, and stood waving his hands, holding back traffic so that I could swing round backwards and then turn my wheels to roll head-first down the hill.
All this took less than one short minute. As I shot off down hill and let out the clutch, gravity kick-started the engine. Unable to stop with the traffic build-up, I waved and tooted and thanked this man A.J. who helped others.
He was a practical man, a carpenter I think judging by what he’d said about a cut on his ear. He was also a man who liked camping, this I could tell by what was inside his old T2 camping van and by the brand of clothing he wore. Years ago I wrote a thesis called: ‘The Value of Camping in an Education’ and I still hold that camping is an activity which puts you in touch with nature and her ways and which grounds you, opening your heart to others, for when you are cheek-by-jowl you must adjust your behaviour so that you all have a decent weekend away. And when there’s a storm, you help one another cope.
Nothing like a decent human being to lift the soul. Life is enriched if we help others, theirs and yours. With these light thoughts rolling round my head, I flew over the trees and hills which the road wound through.