An Act of Charity

Sometimes a kind act gets out of hand.  It is the foremost probability to occur when your charity is targeted at a person who may not want your help,  or misunderstands your bigheartedness to be otherwise motivated.  Be careful about swatting a fly off your neighbor’s nose with your fist: your neighbor might read the signal incorrectly.

It was a Sunday afternoon.  I had an errand to run across town (meaning Metro-Atlanta, making it more of a pilgrimage than an errand).  A clear and lovely day with pleasant music on the radio can lull you into a spirit of “good will towards men” that normally only happens around Christmas time (with the right amount of egg-nogg).

I was in a grand mood with an eye out for anyone who might need help changing a tire, or some elderly person in need of assistance crossing a busy street.  Coming to a four way stop, I spotted my victim: the station wagon in front of me had a pair of work boots sitting on its roof.

The boots were not tied down.  No, they were just teeter-tottering back and forth on their delicate perch at the very back corner of the edge of the roof; obviously placed there and forgotten about.  The driver didn’t know, and I was going to save him!

Those kinds of boots are expensive and necessary to a hard working construction worker.  I was sure he’d appreciate being told about the boots before they fell off.  Losing them would probably cost him a significant part of next weeks pay.  So, I did the proper Christian thing: I blew the horn to get his attention.  It worked–I got his attention.

His gesture suggested he didn’t understand me, so I blew the horn again.  Giving me one more gesture (with emphasis), he took off in such a hurry that I expected the boots to go flying off, but they didn’t.  Due to some heretofore unknown principle of physics, they stayed somehow balanced when nothing else would have.  The chase heated up.  The hotter I got to catch him, the hotter he got to keep away from me.

I don’t know a whole lot about physics, but Einstein had a theory about relativity, and he studied a good bit about gravity, too.  In the case of the balancing boots, I’d say that my interest in them was relative to what was becoming the gravity of the situation.  I will try to state that principle for you.  It is called “Boil’s Law”:

“Just because you can boil something does not guarantee it will make a good soup.”

The four way stop allowed other cars to get between us, but I was determined.  I turned on my flashers and hammered on the horn.  It sounded like the cavalry was coming.  I flashed my headlights on and off a few times while continuing the horn, hoping to persuade the man with the boots on his car to stop.  Instead, it had the opposite effect: he continued to speed up increasing the distance between us.

Local churches were letting out, so even more cars got between us.  They must have all thought I was honking at them, and they all began driving slower and slower.  The boots and the station wagon were getting away, so I had to act fast.  At the next traffic light, I passed everybody on the right trusting Providence to guide me safely through the intersection.

Up ahead I saw boots flapping in the breeze at a distance.  I was in high-speed pursuit.  With tires squealing; horn blowing, and lights flashing, I went after the station wagon which seemed to be equally committed to escaping me for some reason.  I caught a glimpse of him turning into a subdivision.  People were out in their yards on this beautiful day, so my quarry and I were becoming a spectator sport.

When he realized I was catching up to him, he panicked.  Had there been a Hollywood camera crew out there we could’ve filmed a sequel to “Smoky and the Bandit”.  When I finally got up beside him, he was yelling so loudly that he couldn’t hear me yelling at him.  So, I passed him, and cut him off.

It was exhilarating to swerve in front of him just like one of those police car chase scenes in the movies.  The adrenalin shifted gears about then, because I thought he was going to ram me.  But he didn’t.  We both just sat there for a moment panting and staring.  Then, I got out of the car and started towards him.

As I walked back towards the station wagon, I could hear quite a remarkable lesson in expletives coming in my direction.  For a second, I thought he was going to get out of his car too, but he just sat there.

“Your shoes are on top of your car!”, I told him.

He looked down at the floorboard, then back at me.


“Your shoes…your (blankety-blank) work boots are sitting on the (blankety-blank) top of your (blankety-blank) station wagon!”

I was now many miles and almost an hour out of my way.  I was running low on fuel and would now have to buy gasoline before finishing my errand.  Yet there was to be no “thank you”.  Not one bit of appreciation was shown nor any level of empathy from that man forthcoming that would be in the least considerate of all that I had gone through on his behalf.

You see, they were not his boots.  He asked, and I told him they were not mine, either.  The silence that followed filled my head with the thunderous drumming of my own pulse.  For what seemed like a long time, we just stared at each other.

He looked at me with all the warmth and pleasure you’d expect on the face of a man who just found his morning newspaper soaking wet in the driveway.  Without another word, he cranked up and drove away with somebody’s boots still balanced precariously on the edge of his roof; destined to never find their former utility again.

It was starting to rain, but I stood there watching those boots gallop over the horizon and hopefully out of my life forever.  When I left there that day, I had a new self image that would not have been flattering to a toad.

While we all benefit from the lesson in the parable of “The Good Samaritan”, perhaps this experience of mine will allow a kinder look at some of the others who just walked on by.  Even with all the best of intentions, it may have been more charitable of me to have left that poor man alone.

5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by David on October 19, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    Great story. That reminds me of a lot of travel mugs left on back bumpers, trunks, or other handy flat automobile surfaces. It also reminds me of a story my grandmother used to tell with a big smile. Many years ago, upon becoming a licensed driver, I drove the hour or so to my grandmother’s house to help her out with some yard work. I arrived there while she was still out doing some errands, and so began looking for things to do. A ‘grandma’ chore that was a particular favorite to me and my brothers was the digging of a new compost pit in her extensive vegetable garden. This relieved her of some hard labor, and allowed her to pitch into it whatever kitchen scraps, yard waste, etc. she desired until the pit was full and a new one was required. For us brothers, the lure of the compost pit dig was the fact that in grandma’s sandy, absolutely rock-free garden, by the time you were just breaking a sweat, you could be gazing proudly upon a hole the size of a volkswagen beetle. Thus motivated, I selected a crop-free spot and started excavating madly, slowed slightly by a collection of odd-looking roots, but otherwise unfettered. By the time gram got home, I had a hole dug about half-way to China and at least a big as the aforementioned beetle. The only problem was that those strange roots I had laid waste to belonged to gram’s beloved asparagus plants. And as anyone who has ever tried to grow their own asparagus knows, it is a labor of love, with much emphasis on the labor. At any rate, gram was none too happy that her plants had been relocated by her “well intended” grandson. The story has a happy ending, though, as in the years following their supposed slaughter, the asparagus thrived as it had never done before. It’s a great memory, and I wish she was around so I could do it all over again. I think I’ll go out in my own yard and dig a hole.


  2. Posted by Dave Strickland on October 19, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    The Law of Untended Consequences seems to have been in effect that day. The Prohibition of the Sale of Alcohol in the US during the 1920’s seems to have worked in a similar fashion.


  3. No good deed ever goes unpunished.


  4. Posted by Betty on June 14, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    You were more brave than I would have been !!


  5. Posted by Betty on June 14, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Brave, not brove !


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