I loved magical books as a child—the Narnia books, Edgar Eager, Madeline L’Engle. I so wanted to open a door and step into something altogether different from the life I lived each day. There were years when I believed that it just might happen, that it was possible that given the right moment and the right door, I could step into a closet and find instead of the mundane clothes something else, altogether new.
Last week, very shortly after I posted about how I had to be dragged into being a good Samaritan and helping a woman get her dog in the car—after she had apparently been unsuccessful for AN HOUR AND A HALF!!!—my bike malfunctioned half way through my commute to a training I was expected to be at 15 minutes later. The 15 minutes that would easily have been enough to get there on my bicycle melted away at an alarming rate as I stood on the sidewalk, my bike upside down in front of me, ineffectually poking at levers and bolts.
The rear wheel had first rubbed increasingly on the brake and then, I guess when I turned it over to try to fix that, had slipped out of its place on the frame altogether. There was no way to ride—or even roll—the bike unless I could get the rear wheel back into position, and there was an attachment on the rear wheel for my son’s bike trailer that only my husband had ever attached and detached and that I could not figure out. (I know, I know, as a regular bike commuter I should know how to do these things.) In any case, I stood there helplessly in my button down shirt and slacks, my hands smudged with bike grease. Other bike commuters whizzed by me down the street without stopping (not that I expected them to stop—I surely wouldn’t have), my husband had lost his cell phone and was not at home, so I couldn’t call him to ask him to talk me through what to do, I hadn’t brought a lock with me since I was planning to leave the bike in a locked bike area in the building’s garage, and I was still a couple of miles from the training.
And then, a man with long dreadlocks walked over with two large dogs—Bosco and Valentino—a black lab and a white giant poodle. The dogs bounced around us as he took a look at my bike. He couldn’t figure out what to do either, so he said, “Do you want to leave your bike in my house? It’s right over there,” and waved at a group of small row houses behind him.
I demurred for about three seconds before taking him up on the offer. He, the dogs, and I crossed the street to his house, me carrying my upside down bike, the rear wheel resting out of its place in the frame. And when he opened the door to his small row house, I had that feeling, that I had been released from the expected and entered into a different way of being. The front room—the only room I saw—was small, with a simple hard wood floor, and held two bikes on a stand against one wall, paintings that were both bright and peaceful, a small chandelier with slender brass arms in the front window, a low table with a large glass bowl of colorful marbles on it, and little else. It was so simple, so lovely. The dogs meandered in and out as I settled my bike carefully along the free wall. The man gave me his card, and I said I’d call him later and abandoned my bike and ran over to the metro and made it to my training just a little late.
That evening I brought my son with me to pick up the bike, along with a bottle of wine. My son carried a couple of toy cars with him into the house, and when he showed them to our Good Samaritan, the man went into the back of his house and came out with a little VW bus, which he gave to my son. We had come to collect my bike, which this man had let me leave in his house all day—and he gave us something new to take home with us.
I’ve thought of this often in the days since. In fact, I find that just picturing that front room calms me, encourages me to trust that what I need is out there, and that somehow, unexpectedly, a door will open. There have been other remarkable Good Samaritan moments in my life—a guy who stopped and helped fix a flat tire along a highway, an employee of a rental car agency at an airport that, when due to a logistical mix-up we got stuck 80 miles from where we needed to be actually drove us there when his shift ended even though it was out of his way. And beyond that there have been those people who with a generous spirit have guided me through critical moments that changed the way I viewed myself and the world forever. My outdoor education teachers in high school, for example, who not only taught me specific skills for some of the most fantastic adventures of my life—white water kayaking, hiking, and backpacking—but also provided me the vision I needed to stop caring so much what my peers thought of my choices and to start looking for what was meaningful to me. On this Thanksgiving I’m feeling special gratitude for these Good Samaritans in the small sense and large, and hoping I can work to be more like them—more open to those who need something I have to offer, more willing to pass forward the generosity that has been shown to me.