Monday’s unlikely Samaritan

by Kristin on September 13, 2010

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by Kelly Schott

Today was one of those Monday mornings that greets you with a kick in the teeth. By 8 am I had made exactly two out of four family members mad at me, and had botched an apology. (I’m probably fortunate that one of the two who wasn’t mad was already out the door before we had a chance to interact—my stats could have been worse.)

By 8:30 am, I spilled coffee down the front of my light-colored pants, had to pick up an unexpected doggie deposit with some leaves because I didn’t have a bag on hand, and I became suddenly aware that my back was really messed up. My history with lower back issues indicated that if I didn’t get to the chiropractor right away, I might not be walking by lunch. I kissed what I had hoped would be a productive morning of work goodbye.

As I was leaving the chiropractor’s office, driving to the cafe to get my late start on my day, an angry driver honked at me. Upon pulling into the parking lot downtown, I realized our parking pass was in the other car, so I had to convince the ticket guy who was cruising around to have pity on me. Seriously? Hadn’t the morning hit rock bottom yet?

Closed off to warmth and kindness

I walked cautiously to the cafe, trying not to jar my freshly-adjusted back. A man who was clearly “off” but incredibly cheerful said “Good morning!” with a bright smile, as he pulled his rolling suitcase behind him. Ironically, on a morning that had shown me no great kindnesses, I returned his jovial greeting with cool suspicion rather than warmth and gratitude. “Be careful!” he warned, as a truck made a left turn in front of me, where I was about to cross the street. “Have a good day!” he called after me as I walked away.

Now I’m sitting at the cafe, with my coffee and laptop, a clean skirt, and satisfying work to occupy me. My husband loves me and is forgiving, even if we don’t always say the right things to each other. My life is not bad, not in the least.

In search of empathy and grace

And what I feel is sadness. I’m sad that so many people seem so angry at the world, as they drive around in their cars and walk briskly down sidewalks with tense looks on their faces. I’m sad that we jump to conclusions about one another, and view each other with so much suspicion, always on the defensive.

I also feel sad that this man, my Good Samaritan—who I suspect has more reasons to be angry at the world than most of us—was the one who was able to offer me grace and kindness in my extra tender Monday morning state. Maybe he’s full of grace and empathy because he just knows what it’s like to face the world’s rough patches, one day at a time. Or maybe he just doesn’t know enough to be suspicious and hardened—he can’t fully comprehend that the way of the world is all about protecting yourself, and suspecting the worst of everyone around you, rather than the best.

Whatever it is that makes him the way he is, we could all stand to be more like him, spilling more grace out over the world. I’m thankful that this morning gave me a chance to see that, again.

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  • Cheryl Ensom Dack

    That was beautiful, Kristin. Made me teary. Something so tender and deeply true there. I think it’s the way your “good Samaritan” cut straight on through appearances/self-consciousness/expectations and even customary behavior to relate to you. That’s how children are, and it’s how I want to be more of the time than I am.

    The “persona” that we as adults have learned to wear (the image we project of ourselves as we go about in our lives) might help us get jobs, cause people to respect us, help us get what we want (or think we want) and even win us “friends.” But at the end of the day, what children and your good Samaritan are best at -just being themselves- is what touches our hearts most deeply, what creates the most tender of connections and what truly makes us human.

    I know I don’t know how to drop my persona all or even most of the time and still be an adult, a parent, a…whatever. That persona has so become “me,” I hardly know the difference between it and my real self. Where does one leave off and the other begin? They feel inextricably woven together. Are they? I don’t know. I have found, though, that I get closer to the answer when I follow my heart/knowing inside, and not my head.

  • Jana CG

    Love this post. I needed the reminder today to look for grace when it spills out in unexpected places. Thanks for sharing!

  • Larkinsmom

    Made me think of an old article about what the world would be like if people with Down syndrome ruled. Sharing it with you here. :) Enjoy your day

  • ed cyzewski

    I’ve caught this in myself and in the atmosphere around me sometimes, “suspecting the worst of everyone around you.” Just this weekend I literally prevented two accidents that could have been caused by speeding motorists who would have run two separate cars off the road. I was just alert and aware of my surroundings, moving out of the way at just the right time, while these drivers seemed consumed with driving 10 over the speed limit no matter what the cost. I could have just been grateful for having prevented those accidents, but man, I was yelling, yelling in my closed up car, at those jerks. I blared my horn and stared at them. I was the angry, temperamental Samaritan.

    Who knows why they were speeding. Maybe they were stressed out. Maybe they had something on their minds. Maybe they were late for something important. All I know is that I saw the worst in them and then made things even worse. I lost my grip on compassion and mercy, failing to hope for the best among them. So yeah, I felt kind of lousy when I stopped blaring my horn…

  • Meredith

    Oh, I’m guilty of this, too. It is easy – far too easy – to get wrapped up in our own lives and our own worlds, to the point where we can’t see beyond ourselves to the rest of the world. And because it’s so easy to get wrapped up, it’s also easy to stay wrapped up, because it’s harder to make ourselves aware of everything else in the world – it can be overwhelming. Maybe staying wrapped up means we miss the bad stuff, but it also means we miss the good stuff too.

    We need more good Samaritans to remind us to stop, look up and remember that as bad as it may seem right now, it’s not always this way.

  • Dave Thurston

    One of my favorite lines in a movie is from The Untouchables – Sean Connery’s character to Kevin Costner’s after Costner’s has had a bad day.

    “Did you survive until the end of your shift?”


    “First order of any shift is to survive. Everything else is above and beyond.”

    I’m paraphrasing, but it sounds like you made it through your shift. Well done.

  • The Modern Gal

    I need to try harder myself. Great post.

  • Kristin T.

    Cheryl, this is one of those posts that sort of wrote itself—I hardly knew what I was saying, I just knew I needed to get it out. But you seem to have keyed in to exactly what I was needing to say. Reading your comment almost made me get teary! Yes, my Good Samaritan “cut straight on through appearances/self-consciousness/expectations and even customary behavior to relate to [me].” And yes, we each walk around with our persona, uncertain how to even display anything else to the world. Fighting our heads to follow our “knowing inside,” as you put it, is the only way to start breaking the personal and social cycles.

    Jana CG, it’s so easy to get caught up in the usual cycles of offense/defense, game-playing and facades, isn’t it? And then all of a sudden, something or someone makes us pause, and really see.

    Larkinsmom, what a great article and great perspective! A world filled with people helping others, expressing their care and concern in genuine ways, and not putting on airs (but celebrating every chance they got) would indeed be heaven on earth. And to think of a world where the word “hurry” is replaced by the phrase “plenty of time”—that’s a concept to just bask in for a while. Thanks for sharing that link.

    ed, I really do think this “suspecting the worst of others” position has become a cultural, chronic disease. Worse yet, it’s highly contagious! We jump to so many conclusions, make so many rash judgments, and generally look at regular old misunderstandings with high suspicion. Even when the man I encountered today was friendly, I became suspicious! Friendliness itself is cause for concern in today’s society! So sad. I’m glad that even though many of us are guilty of this fault, we are also aware, and desire to be much more liberal with our benefit-of-the-doubt approach.

    Meredith, this is a great point: “…it’s also easy to stay wrapped up [in ourselves], because it’s harder to make ourselves aware of everything else in the world.” It really is a vicious cycle, isn’t it? But you’re right—we miss out on so much when we give in to it.

    Dave, yes, I made it through my shift! My back still hurts like heck, and a few new frustrations have cropped up, but a lot of goodness and beauty have shown up, too. Here’s to finding ways to keep encouraging each other along the way.

    The Modern Gal, we can do it! One day—one interaction—at a time (even if it’s a two-steps-forward, one-step-back sort of dance).

  • Laura

    Written so beautifully and quite honestly exactly what I needed this morning.

  • madwhtwmndiary

    This post is sort of like “sacred ground” that I almost don’t want to tiptoe onto with an inept comment… but I have to thank you for sharing this …

  • Ron Simkins

    Krsitin – congratulations on even noticing your “Good Samaritan.” So often when we are into our own stuff, we don’t even notice the person who is there bringing a gift of grace for us. And, thanks for the reminder that I should be looking for those people today. So easy to forget.

  • Kristin T.

    Laura, thank you. I love it when we have opportunities to take something we’ve benefited from and pass it along to others.

    madwhtwmndiary, all sincere comments are valued here—there’s no such thing as an inept one! But I’m glad you felt the sacredness in the moment, much the way I felt it. There was definitely a “pay attention—this is important!” quality as I reflected.

    Ron, what’s funny (and also really sad) is that I noticed him because he was behaving so differently from everyone else. He was friendly, cheerful, not in a hurry or wrapped up in some electronic device. That alone says a lot about our culture, doesn’t it?

  • Trina

    I figure all kinds of people come in to our lives for various reasons for various lengths of time. Cool experience you had that lead you to reflect on the slights of the morning. As always your experiences are thought provoking. Thank you.

  • Linda B

    Great post… I’m glad Big Momma suggested coming over to read your blog. It’s so easy to get caught up in the midst of our days that we miss those moments. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own stuff that we forget the power of kindness. There have been days like that for me where I was having a bad day, where even someone smiling and holding the door open for me made me stop and refocus and remember I have so many things to be thankful for in my own life. I’ve also made the effort in the last few years to be in the moment with the people I run in to while I’m out including store clerks and bank tellers, waitresses, and other people in line, and to actively talk to them and be kind to them. In these days of cell phones and preoccupation, many of my friends who work in those fields say they feel invisible so much of the time because people don’t even engage with them. Even that has helped me a lot of times when I’m having a bad day myself. Kindness is contagious.