Yesterday I was out walking my daily walk and a gold sedan pulled up beside me. People pull up by me all the time when I'm out walking, usually to ask directions, a request that I very poorly answer.
This was different right away. Pulled up right to the curb and put the car in park; my eye hit the leatherbound, beat-up book on the console--definitely a Bible--the pillow and blanket in the backseat (is he sleeping in his car?), and his face--young, maybe early twenties, without a recent shave and with the dark circles and earnest of eyes of the devout, at least to my eyes.
My first impression: I'm about to get a have-you-accepted-Christ-into-your-life talk.
"Excuse me," he says, "I'm sorry, I just got this impression, like, an idea from the Lord, that I should ask you: does your father need any prayers? I felt like I had to stop and ask that. Should I pray for your father?"
I stop and think for a moment. "Well," I say honestly, "not that I know of."
"Okay," he laughs. "What about you? Do you need any prayers?"
I look away and think for a moment. Yes, I'm an atheist, but if it pleases someone to pray for me, that's all right. I'll answer honestly. And honestly, I have a pretty good life. I don't need prayers--maybe I need help being the man I know I oughtta be, but that's a small enough prayer.
"No," I say finally, "I don't think I really need any prayers. There's lots of other people need more prayers and blessings than I do."
"All right, well, I'm Ernie." He sticks out his hand for me to shake.
"Just want to say that Jesus loves you."
I thank him, wave as he drives away. I prize these little encounters where people try to show concern for others, where they bring a little God into the world. I may not believe in it, but I think life can always use a bit of holiness. One of my favorite memories is of sitting on a beach as a child and being suddenly presented with a beautiful shell by a middle-aged lady, who told me Jesus loved me and then walked away. I do wish I still had the shell.
Really, I start to feel a little bad about it as I keep walking. If he really was living out of his car, I should have offered to buy him dinner, or something. See if I could find someplace he could sleep for the night. I've just finished reading The Dharma Bums, so I'm feeling very charitable to wandering holy men.
I'm living at home for the summer. Later that evening I tell my mom about the whole encounter, and my mild regrets that I did not do more. She purses her lips, looks hard at me. "Do you really mean that?"
"Well . . . yes," I say. "I mean, there might be some danger to hanging out with a new-met stranger, but it felt like the right thing to do."
"What impression did you get?" she asks me.
I had had some misgivings. My "wandering holy man" notion was just a romantic idea--in this age, no poor monk drives a car. Who can afford the gas? But I don't say that. "He seemed like an earnest, honest guy, really. And it's the whole WWJD thing."
"Phillip, that's well and good, but think about this. He's driving around in a car. He sees you out walking alone, asks about your father--are there problems at home?--will someone miss you if you don't come home? This is how kids get kidnapped."
I'd protest that I'm nineteen years old and can take care of myself, but I don't look it, and truthfully, Ernie was probably stronger than me. I have to yield a bit to my mom's experience--she burned herself out working with runaways and troubled kids when I was little, and has a few too many horror stories.
"And now he knows your route, and when you go walking," she goes on. "Next time you're out walking, think he'll be there again?"
"I usually walk at night . . . this was an early afternoon walk."
"Good. But be more careful."
I suppose this is a long anecdote, but it precedes a big question. I know I'm a very innocent guy--I always assume everyone has the best of intentions at heart, but things get muddled up in the struggle of the everyday. It rarely occurs to me to think people might be dangerous--heck, I though Annie Wilkes just needed a good firm hug in Misery--but I still stand by my impression that the guy was honest. And I resent my mom a little for turning what felt like an encounter with holiness into Stranger Danger.
What do you think? How much has the world warped, and how much kindness can we afford strangers? Is there holiness moving out there, quietly and sweetly, or only predators under evangelical beards?
Posted by Xann. (Member # 11482) on :
Given that he didn't seem threatening to you at all, i would be worried only if you say him again. At worst he could be some kind of creep. At ever worse he could be a nice guy and after many various struggles there is eventually a movie that is made, starring keano reeves as the vagrant holy man... The horror
Posted by Joldo (Member # 6991) on :
For some reason, though, the idea is kinda painful. This notion that I have to worry about being nice to people, 'cause I don't know if there's danger to it--that feels like a blow.
My mom worried about me when I was little because I'd go into strangers' houses to help out if they asked (and usually got some kind of sweets in the bargain). Yeah, that one's probably pretty dumb.
Then again, when I was a little older she came home to find me feeding missionaries in the kitchen, which also freaked her out.
I just . .. I don't like the idea that I have to worry that treating people with extra kindness could be dangerous to me.
Posted by Tresopax (Member # 1063) on :
What could you have done to "be more careful"?
It sounds like, short of not running outside anymore or never speaking to people you don't know, you were about as careful as one could reasonably be. So what it seems like your mother is really taking issue with is that you believed this guy. And if that is the case, I think I disagree...
Precautions make you safer. Fearing people does not make you safer, except insofar as fearing leads you to take precautions. So, once you've taken whatever precautions you consider to be reasonable (not getting into his car, not giving out your address, etc.), I see no additional benefit to being paranoid about the guy. I think it will mostly just make you unhappy.
Posted by Joldo (Member # 6991) on :
Mostly because I was wavering on the edge of telling him I'd buy him dinner and getting into the car with him. I never really thought of there being a danger until she mentioned that. And so I feel like I lose a bit of my innocence at the world.
Posted by rivka (Member # 4859) on :
Getting into the car of someone you don't know -- whoever they might be -- is often not the best idea. Heck, even when I get together with Hatrackers (unless I've met them before or have had extended conversations with them over a period of time) I try to meet them in groups and/or public places. That's not because I'm afraid of them (if I were, I would avoid meeting them altogether); it's just a reasonable precaution.
Posted by Shan (Member # 4550) on :
Keep your innocence. And keep safe. Those can happen mutually.
For instance, if you wanted to offer a dinner to the man, I'll bet there's a nearby burger joint or diner you could meet him at, no? Got a cell phone? Have an adventurous friend that might be intrigued? Go with a buddy, or go where it's well-lit, well-peopled, under your own power. You can politely but honestly say, "I only ride with family and friends of long-standing. I'll meet you at . . . "
I think those urges to do good are good, and your mother's words of caution are also good. Heed them. Ponder them. And figure out how you can do the good you are moved to do safely.
Posted by bootjes (Member # 11624) on :
Wise words Tresopax,Rivka an Shan. Like my uncle said: "believe in God but keep a lock on your bike".
I too find it hard to have to think along these lines (watching out) , even more so for my kids. I hate to warn them against strangers. So the answers that imply to keep your innocence and keep safe are a piece of fine wisdom.
Posted by ketchupqueen (Member # 6877) on :
I agree. It would not be my first thought to think what your mother did-- but I wouldn't get in the car with a stranger, even a NICE stranger, even one I trusted. I just wouldn't. Like Rivka, I want to know they are who they appear to be first. And like Shan, I'd offer to meet someone for dinner, or I'd offer to have him follow me to the nearest place, buy it for him, and leave. (Actually, I usually have juice boxes, snacks, and the like on me. Since I'm not usually just out for a walk by myself. I have been known to give them to people, much to my two year old's distress! She doesn't like to share sometimes. )
Posted by Artemisia Tridentata (Member # 8746) on :
Last year, while driving my regular 600 mile commute, I saw a hiker by the side of the road. I slowed down for safety, and as I passed, I noticed that he had a really nice internal frame pack. So, I stopped. He walked to the window and announced that he had prayed me there. There hadn't been a car all morning, so about mid day, he had prayed for one to come. What could I do, I had him jump in. He asked for a ride to Ely. But, when he said that the ultimate desination was Montana, I went ahead and took him all the way to Ogden. I bought him dinner in Wendover and dropped him off at the Gospel Mission in Ogden. Yes, I know that probably wasn't the safe thing to do. But, who can argue with a really nice internal frame pack.