Taking the time to help a stranger seems like an easy enough task for most of us, but once the car is in gear and your mind is racing to the next stage of the day's game it's hard to put the brake on, get out of the car and offer assistance. I remember leaving a bank parking lot after using the ATM. There was an elderly man standing next to his car which had the hood up. He had a kind face and I felt ashamed as I pulled into traffic and sped off. I had basic tools and jumper cables. I'd worked on cars out of necessity and probably could have helped him out or at least used my cell phone to call someone that could. I don't know where I was headed in such a hurry, but I do remember the feeling of guilt. I wonder how many people I could help that I don't even see because I'm looking the other way. Studies show that the main reason we don't help each other is the sense of being in a rush. We're so preoccupied that we don't help.
When I'm working on something at home, my attention fully fixed on the project of the moment, and my daughter interrupts my thought for something I feel anger arise. It's taken some practice to realize that it's the same impulse that kept me from helping that man so many years back. Whatever I'm doing is more important than the well being of the other. Or more simply, I'm more important to me. My own self absorbtion is one of the biggest obstacles to my practice of compassion and ahimsa.
Walking out to my car in the grocery store parking lot one day a woman approached me and asked if I could give her a ride home. She was carrying two boxes of wine, not a light load. The day was colder than she had anticipated and she was recovering from foot surgery. Her foot was hurting much more than she expected from her walk there. I gladly gave her the ride home and enjoyed our brief conversation. I felt so good for days after that experience that I wondered if I shouldn't just don't go around offering more people rides. But she asked for help. I don't think I've ever turned down someone who has asked for help. But as a stubbornly independent person I know that asking for help is not an easy step for most of us. If the man in the parking lot had asked I'm sure I would have stopped instantly. His eyes asked and I knew it, but his ego stopped him from asking.
It is interesting to note that as debase and flawed as some like to paint the human picture, we find ourselves exceedingly happy when we give of ourselves. I chide my friends, who like myself, will suffer in isolation when ill instead of asking me or another friend for help. We cheat ourselves of some much needed comfort and also cheat our companions on this journey of the great euphoric joy of helping out. Movies that show tremendous personal sacrifice for others are the ones that bring tears, even to the tough guys in the audience. The nonviolent path is challenging, but it has many rewards.
Sometimes it's even nice to help someone without asking, maybe even anonymously. To the anonymous kind souls of the world, namaste.
Asking for and giving help...may we stop struggling with the simple things.