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Striving to be a better person

The world is small, and there are good people in it.

I was reminded of this yet again last weekend when I was driving home from a weekend getaway in a cabin in the middle of nowhere and pulled over to consult with my sister about where we should grab lunch. When we decided and were ready to get back on the road, I turned the key in my car … and nothing happened.

I frantically waved my arms and yelled “Wait, wait, my car didn’t start!” Fortunately, she heard me and stopped.

So there we stood staring at the engine of my car as though it might tell us what was wrong, when a man stopped and asked if he could help. I braced myself. I made a kneejerk assumption based on his gender and apparent age that he was about to be condescending. I was wrong.

He asked a few questions and then pulled the cover off the terminals on the battery. Then he said “Can you run across the street (to a gas station) and get a Coke?” My sister and I looked at each other and hesitated. Then he explained he was going to pour it over the terminals to get rid of the corrosion.

“Wait till you see what it does! You’ll never drink Coke again,” he said.

OK, then. Meanwhile, he reached into his vehicle for … a hatchet. The positive connection was so stuck together he couldn’t get it off the battery. So he improvised. That’s when he told me he was a retired mechanic, and always had a trick up his sleeve.

After trying everything he could think of, he declared the battery dead, and gave my sister directions to the nearest auto parts store, where she could buy me a new battery. Then he said, “I’ll stay with you, if you want — not because I think you’d have any trouble replacing it … it’s just I don’t think you have the tools.”

Well, no. I didn’t have a 10mm deep socket wrench … or a hatchet. I thanked him and we chatted a bit while we waited for my sister to return from her mission. It turned out, he wasn’t just a retired mechanic. He was a retired airplane mechanic, who used to work at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport. In fact, he still has a relative who lives not too far from where I live now. What are the chances?

My sister got back with the new battery; we swapped them out (he pointed out to me “Hey, you know this old one is dated 5/18?”) and voila, the car started right up. I was just about in tears of relief and gratitude at that point.

Meanwhile, the gentleman (who had only had to remind me about 20 times not to touch my face before I could wash my hands and be sure there wasn’t any battery acid on them) was hustling back into his car. I couldn’t do anything but thank him and let him get back to his retirement.

In addition to being so grateful for the combination of coincidence that brought him to help me get back on the road, I was embarrassed I had been ready to bristle at what I thought was going to come out of his mouth, based solely on his appearance. For goodness sake, I preach all the time that people need to be better than that. And I would, truly, have been in trouble if he had not come along. Thank you, sir.

***

On this Patriot Day, it seems even more important to remember that we all have more in common, and are more capable of basic human decency, than we are prepared to acknowledge these days. Be kind to each other, do a good deed. Take every opportunity to be a better person. Those may be some of the best ways to “never forget” who we are.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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