A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
It's time for a feel good story - wrapped inside of a warning.
In the final analysis the only thing that really matters on this earth is the people in our lives, be they well known and loved, or be they strangers we might encounter only once. I met such a stranger Friday morning morning by the name of Riley.
I hesitate to write about this because it is not my intent to call attention to what happened. But it was such a defining and revealing moment that I wanted to explore it. Revealing because it showed me what a huge difference twenty minutes can make in someone's life, and it underscored the reality that when we talk about "helping people", we can only do so one person at a time. It was defining because it showed me with stark clarity the capacity that each of us has to choose. We can choose to sew the seeds of peace, or seeds of unctious self-involvement.
I was in Germantown driving on Pilgrim Road, hustling to be on time for a "very important" appointment, when suddenly I was confronted with a different, and far more important one. I noticed a young boy sitting on the sidewalk who was in obvious distress. It was 8:15 in the morning; broad daylight in a "safe and suburban" setting. I was deeply preoccupied with my meeting, knowing it was going to be difficult, and I figured he would be fine. So to my shame, I kept driving for a few hundred feet.
Suddenly I was gripped with the strongest sense of concviction I can recall. The conviction took hold, I parked quickly, and ran over to him. Kneeling down so as to speak eye to eye, I learned he had been riding his foot-powered scooter to school and took a nasty spill on the sidewalk. He was clearly in pain but thankfully he was more frightened than injured, with just a scrape or two to show for his mishap. I assured him he was going to be fine, and after a few pats on the back and further reassurances, we stood up and started chatting. His name is Riley and he is a fourth grader at MacArthur Elementary School. I told him I had a son in the fourth grade, and that created a definite connection as his dark and worried visage began to relax and brighten. I offered him a ride to school which was just a half mile down the road. I hesitated to do so for obvious reasons, but I did not want him getting back on that scooter so quickly after his accident. He accepted, and I took him right to the office to be sure he would be checked out and OK. Lastly, and as a sad reflection of the times, I realized that his parents might be justifiably concerned upon hearing Riley tell them the story of a strange man stopping and giving him a ride to school. So I made sure the Principal had my name and phone number in case they wanted to allay those concerns.
I think the feel good part of the story is obvious. The incident left me with a feeling of bouyancy for the remainder of the day. And I kept thinking of my own fourth grade son, my "Buddy", and praying that if he ever had such an accident someone would be there to help him.
So what's the warning in which the story is wrapped? It lies in those few moments after I first saw Riley; the few seconds where I just kept driving, more concerned with my pathetic little meeting than I was with a nine year old boy in turmoil and pain before my very eyes.
That's the blessing Riley gave me. He revealed with riveting and unflattering clarity, that there are two of me. The one who attempts to do right, and the one who is content to "drive on", and let someone else deal with it.
I gave some time and some attention to Riley. He gave me back a bit of myself.
I am in his debt.