August 18, 2010

Highway Samaritan

Had I met Phineas on a busy sidewalk somewhere, and looked directly into his face, ?I may not have said “Hello.” But as it turned out, I said more than that. And he made an impression on me that lasts to this day.
He probably began his day like any other. He woke up, got out of bed, surveyed the sunrise, and went about his morning routine. He then examined the ordinary day that lay ahead of him; same old routine. Perhaps he kissed his wife goodbye as he walked out to the garage, got into his car, and drove off to run some errands.
Whatever events preceded our meeting, Phineas happened upon my wife and me as we sat in the median of a lonely stretch of highway.
Off-road Adventures
We found ourselves sitting off the highway in our car with a tree branch protruding through the rear passenger window, right behind my wife; shattered glass covered the back seat. It was raining. We sat stunned; I looked over at her.
“Are you OK?”
A brief pause: “Yeah.”
Another brief pause: “Are you OK?”
2010 1528 page27“I think so.” I tried to ascertain the damage from my position in the driver’s seat; it wasn’t clear if we were going to be able to drive away from the scene or not. I noticed that the windshield wipers were off in mid-wipe; clearly they were broken.
Just as I was about to step out to get a better look, something caught my attention from the left; a light-colored Lexus was almost gracefully hydro-planing across the wet median grass toward us.
“He’s going to hit us,” I said with a calmness that often precedes imminent events. Suddenly, just before it appeared the driver would collide with us, the car spun off to the right and came to rest on the opposite side of the tree.
I checked to see if my wife, Sabina, was still feeling all right, then ran around to the second vehicle. As I approached from the rear the driver was attempting to drive away, wet grass and mud piling up behind his tires as they spun ineffectually on the wet grass. I approached the driver’s side window. He noticed me after a few moments; the window opened a few inches.
“Hi,” I said, managing a smile. “We’re your new neighbors.”
“Get in,” he said. He was an older gentleman; he wore thin, gold, wire glasses. Waves of graying hair garnished the brim of his baseball cap. I ran around to the other side, opened the door, and hesitated: “Your seats are leather.”
“Go ahead and get in,” he said calmly.
I hesitated. “I’ve got mud and water on me.”
“Come on in,” he said again. “It’s raining.” I did as he asked.
“Phineas,” he said, extending his hand. In the other he held his already dialing cell phone.
“Michael,” I said. His handshake was warm and reassuring. “My wife, Sabina, is in our car.”
“Are you stuck?” He put the phone up to his ear.
“Definitely,” I said. “Although I’m not sure what the total damage is.”
His attention shifted to the phone. “Hi, honey. I stopped at the side of the road. I’m helping someone. It’ll only take a few minutes.”
He lowered the phone after signing off with his wife. “I just had the inside of this car detailed and I’m on my way to meet my wife. I don’t want her to know I’m in the ditch.” He laughed.
“I don’t think there’s any damage to your car at all,” I said. “It looks like you can drive away.”
“Well, it seems that I’m stuck at this point.”
“I’ll get out and push,” I offered. I jumped out of the car and went behind. The wheels spun and I pushed, but there was no movement. Grass and mud sprayed all over my legs.
“I’m going to call a tow truck,” Phineas said, leaning out of the car.
“I’m going to check on my wife,” I said.
I went back to my car and got in.
“What’s going on?” Sabina asked.
“Well, he’s stuck too, but he’ll drive away,” I said. “I’m not sure what our total damage is, but I know our windshield wipers are broken, so that may be a problem even if we can drive away.”
I’m not sure how long we waited, but the tow truck finally arrived. It was a long-bed truck with a tilting bed. The driver was a tall, local lad; his baseball cap was pulled down low over his eyebrows. Phineas got out of his car and intercepted the driver before I could get to him. Moments later the driver was pulling the cable from behind his truck to attach to the front of the Lexus.
“He’ll go ahead and pull me out; then we will try to figure out how to get you out,” Phineas said.
The driver motioned to Phineas to get in his car. Before we knew it, he was parked on the side of the highway with a broad smile on his face. He pulled out his wallet and opened it to reveal a row of $100 bills. He handed one to the driver, who took it and tucked it into his shirt pocket.
“Now let’s get you out,” said Phineas.
The tow truck driver parked behind me and jumped out of his truck. “Looks like you’re jammed in there,” he said. He walked over, surveyed the position of the car to the tree, and said, “I’ll pull you straight back; then I’ll pull you out of the median.”
At this, Phineas waved me over. “Why don’t you get your wife and come sit in my car while he does his thing?”
“You’ve done quite a bit already,” I said. “You called the truck, and I’m all wet and muddy.”
“Just go get her and come over to my car.”
I was moved by his compassion. While the truck driver hooked the cable to our car, Sabina went to the dry refuge of Phineas’ car. I stayed in our car and helped steer it away from the tree, then to the edge of the highway.
Paid in Full
I got out of the car and walked over to the tow truck driver with wallet in hand. I had no cash; only a credit card. I suddenly began to perspire. I was quickly getting the impression that the driver did not have the capacity to accept roadside credit.
“How much will that be?” I asked, simultaneously praying for guidance.
The driver looked at me and said, “Nothing.”
I was silent.

What Do You Think?

When have you been at the mercy of strangers?

2. When have you been in a position to help someone in need?

Was Phineas a Christian? What if he was? What if he wasn't?

Beyond the obvious reference to the good Samaritan, what other Bible stories came to mind as you read this story?

“Your friend paid for it.” He jumped into his truck and drove away.

I turned to look at Phineas. He was sitting in his car talking on his cell phone. I walked to the driver’s side of his car. He noticed me standing there in the rain. He opened the car door. I heard him say: “I’ll call you back in a minute, honey.” He stepped out of the car.
I looked into his face. “You didn’t have to do that.”
He smiled. “It’s simple,” he said. “I have children your age. If they’re ever in a similar situation, I hope someone would do the same for them.”
That very moment his words were permanently etched into my being. What struck me was not only what he said, but also how he said it, without an edge of self-interest or self-service, revealing the spiritual man inside. I shook his hand firmly and thanked him profusely.
“Why don’t you follow me to the next exit and we’ll look for a garage where you can get your wipers fixed?” he offered. He didn’t wait for an answer. “Just follow me closely.”
With Phineas in the lead, and me following closely with my hazard lights on, we slowly made it to the next exit. We pulled into a gas station under the canopy.
“Thank you again, Phineas,” I said. “We’re indebted to you.”
Again we shook hands and he smiled. “You owe me nothing, Michael.”
Phineas got into his car and disappeared into the fog and rain. Sabina and I stood together, stunned by the selflessness we had just witnessed. Not only had our prayer for deliverance been answered; we had been provided an example to live by. 
Michael T. Yancey is a freelance writer and journalist. This article was published August 19, 2010.