The night before the big storm everyone was at the Stop and Shop buying bread and milk. I picked up some beef and potatoes and carrots because my husband wanted to make stew. There was an 80% chance of unscheduled time off. I had hopes of curling up with a glass of wine while the snow swirled outside our little blizzard love nest.
On blizzard day I was in 1978 mode. I went to work at the office in North Providence, but I kept the radio on, sure we would get out of work early. And as I hoped, the owner, who had to drive home to Attleboro, decided to call it quits around lunch time. My cell phone rang, John needed more ingredients for the stew. I have vegetarian sympathies, but he thought this recipe needed more beef. Okay, he’s the chef. I’ll eat soyburgers tomorrow. You need your strength in a snowstorm.
I left the office, taking 146S toward Branch Avenue. It was an hour before the snow was scheduled to start–but the weather gods weren’t listening to the forecast. A flake drifted slowly to the ground, and then it was instant blizzard.
Because the roads were turning white, I cut my speed when I got off the highway. Because of the weather warnings traffic was light. That’s why I was able to see the woman walking over the highway bridge. She was wearing light shoes, slip-ons, and a skirt and a waterproof jacket. A boy walked alongside her. She stopped to pull the collar of his coat closed.
That did it for me. I pulled over and asked them if they wanted a ride. She accepted and they got in. They were going to the Stop and Shop to stock up before the storm, but they started too late and got caught in it. Maybe she was waiting on a check to arrive in the mail before she could get the groceries. Who knows?
Anyway, having decided to give them a ride to the market, I was committed to getting them home. They weren’t going to have an easier time with more snow and stuff to carry. They lived off Charles St. We agreed to meet by the exit, and I got busy shopping. Half of Providence had been there the previous night, the rest of us were there now. It was hard to find a cart. I got the stew beef, and a few staples like potato chips and ice cream and got in line at the checkout. There were a couple of guys ahead of me who were speaking a language I had never heard before. I had to ask them. They were from South Africa. Maybe they were speaking Xhosa. Everyone comes to Rhode Island. It’s the center of the universe.
I waited by the exit for a while before the woman and her son found me. She didn’t have a lot of bags, but it would have been a heavy load in the storm. The snow was blowing sideways now. We went out to my car, I put my bags on one side of the trunk, she put her’s on the other, so we would not mix them up.
She was a nice woman and very grateful for the ride. She told me that Jesus had arranged this. She knew God set it up, and I would be Blessed. She didn’t know that I was a Pagan, a Witch, a Unitarian, and an Atheist alternating with Agnostic (even and odd days).
I don’t know if I would be considered worthy of her charity, if she knew who I was. But she was absolutely right about one thing. This encounter was a blessing, and the grace was mutual.
I was blessed with a chance to follow my heart, my truest compass of right and wrong. It hurts to see need every day and feel helpless to make it right. It erodes the joy of life to have to shut out what is plainly there. It was a balm on my soul to be able to help. Step by step, a wise man said. You can only take one step at a time.
So I dropped the woman and her son off at their apartment, and drove slowly home. I made it back safely to my nice warm house.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is worth contemplating. If it were a story of virtuous charity it would be pretty bland, wouldn’t it? It’s actually a story about a virtuous man having to accept charity from a person he considered to be unacceptably ‘other’. And if someday I am lost and that woman, who I won’t recognize after all this time, or her son, offers me direction, I hope I will accept with grace.