A MODERN SAMARITAN
President Clinton was recently asked by some of the African-American
community to issue a formal apology because slavery was permitted in America
until the Civil War, just 135 years ago. From my point of view, there never
could have been any credible justification for enslaving people of any
race. How politicians, clergy, and the man in the street ever rationalized
such inherent evil and injustice has always mystified me. Had I been born
black, I'm sure I'd have felt much more strongly about the issue.
The question of how much racial prejudice and bigotry still exists in
America is pervasive. Conservatives generally insist it is overblown, while
liberals usually feel it is common. Whites like myself find the issue easy
to avoid. I put the matter out of mind.
Two weeks ago, I was driving home from Key West with my cousin. She is in
her early seventies, and I in my mid sixties, so we are past our salad days.
Four miles north of Del Ray Beach, doing 65 miles an hour on I-95, we hit a
bump and I thought I'd blown my left rear tire. The car wobbled and
vibrated badly as I slowed down and looked for the chance to pull from the
middle to the right hand lane and off the road. In a few hundred yards we
got safely off the highway to the shoulder, and I told my cousin to please
get out of the car and wait in the grass as I changed the tire. I looked at
the back of the car, smelled burning rubber, but found the tire was intact.
The axle was lying at a strange angle, and I thought a bearing had given
way. Our mechanic told me later the contol arm for the left rear axle had
actually pulled loose. In any event, the car could not be driven.
As I ruefully gazed at the car, glanced at my watch to see the time was 5pm,
and looked down the freeway for the nearest exit, I saw a van that had
pulled off the road ahead of me. It was coming toward us on the wide grassy
area that fortunately bordered the freeway at that point, and stopped just
ahead of my car. Its driver, who might have been about forty, looked out
and said, "I saw what happened. Get in, and I'll give you a ride to the
nearest phone." I looked at my cousin, realized I couldn't leave her there
alone, and considered the possible dangers of both of us getting in. We
could wait until a police car came by. I thanked the man for stopping and
driving back to help. The few words he said gave me confidence, and I
locked up the car and helped my cousin in the back seat, then sat next to
him in front. As we drove, he told me the next exit was a mile down the
road. To my question, he said he'd been in the Air Force, but now worked for
the post office. He took us to a convenience store and said he would wait
while we called a tow truck. We found the number in my wallet cards,
called, and the answering voice said she'd have a tow truck there in 45
minutes. As we returned to the van, the man asked what luck we'd had. I
told him, and he drove to I-95, headed south to the exit past our car,
turned around and came back north to drop us off. I quietly looked into my
wallet and found a twenty dollar bill.
As I was about to get out, I said, "I realize this in no way can repay you
for the help you've given me, but it may defray some of your costs and the
time you spent with us." He answered, " Wait a minute, I can't accept money
for helping someone out. Other people have helped me in the past, and this
is in repayment."
We never exchanged names, but I owe him a world of thanks. Only he knows
what he did, and he will probably never read these words of gratitude. In
passing, I want to mention that he was black and I white, but both of us
really were just human beings. I was in need of help, and he gave it. When
people act like that and aid each other instead of looking for real or
imagined differences, the world becomes a vastly better place. Skin color
simply doesn't matter.
Back many decades ago when I was a Navy frogman, my swim buddy, Charlie
Mack, was black. Underwater, we had to depend on each other, and race had
no part of our relationship. Stripped of the externals we strive so hard to
maintain, all of us are pretty much the same underneath. That's a lesson the
human race finds hard to learn and easy to forget, but it's the kind of
thing that will make and keep a nation great.
Forty years later, my unknown friend pointed out to me better than any
presidential proclamation could that slavery was an intolerable evil, that
good men show kindness to each other, and that we are far more united by our
overwhelming similarities than we are divided by our few differences. I
would like to share that knowledge with many people like myself who long ago
Sam Orr firstname.lastname@example.org