Ways of seeing: Please stop and offer a helping hand

A few nights a month, we welcome guests into our home. Recently we hosted a young woman, Marissa, and her grandfather, who were visiting Marissa’s younger brother at Middlebury College.
It was clear from first meeting them that members of this family are well educated world travelers. Marissa is a Harvard graduate, currently living on her own in South America, working for an international company — smart and savvy, used to navigating unfamiliar places.
So when she asked for directions for a good running route, I felt confident in recommending “the short loop” — go down this road, take your first right, go up the hill, take another right and go along the ridge, take another right and come back to the highway. Three and a half miles. You have 45 minutes of daylight. “Sounds perfect,” she said and trotted off at 8 p.m., wearing a reflective vest I lent her.
The grandfather and I sat in the yard talking. 8:45 arrived and Marissa had not returned.  “It’s getting kinda dark,” I said. “Let’s go meet her on the loop.” We hopped into the car and started driving the loop backwards. We drove the whole loop. No Marissa.
Hmmm. Maybe she missed the first turn. We drove around “the long loop,” five and a half miles with the same pattern of right hand turns. No Marissa. We began to imagine some bad scenarios. We began to look at the side of the road for that reflective vest.
Maybe she missed the second turn. We drove the impossibly-long route past both potential right hand turns, and again around the long loop. No Marissa. But when we approached the house, the guest room light was on. She was home. She was unharmed.
But what she told us was disturbing, and her story has stuck with me.
She had missed some turns and was lost. It was past dusk. She realized she needed help to get oriented, and maybe help to get home. She did just what I would have done: as a car approached she waved her arms and jumped up and down, trying to flag down the car. But the driver did not stop. And the next five drivers did not stop! Finally someone did, and kindly brought her home.
Of course I was grateful for the generous neighbor who brought her home. But my gratitude was overshadowed by my shock over the six drivers who had not stopped.
Imagine yourself behind the wheel of one of those cars. You are driving along a quiet town road on a summery evening, just after dark. Suddenly you see a young woman, hair pulled back into a pony tail, wearing a T shirt, running pants, and running shoes, jumping up and down and waving her arms.
What is your first thought?
a)this person wants to rob me?
b)      this person wants to kill me and steal my car?
c)this person needs some kind of help?
How can you not choose option c?
Then quickly run through your mind some possibilities for what kind of situation she might be in. She is being stalked or threatened by someone? Someone she loves is hurt in a nearby house? She is hurt? She has come across someone’s pet injured at the side of the road? She is lost and needs directions?
How can you not stop? What are you thinking as you drive on by?
Have we so learned to fear one another that we can no longer reach out to a stranger in need? Have we learned that someone else will step in to fix it; it’s never up to us?
Please consider: this young woman in the pony tail and T shirt could be your sister, your daughter, your granddaughter. She is jumping up and down and waving her arms at the side of the road. She is asking for help. Don’t drive by. Stop. You can help.
Abi Sessions is a retired educator who lives in Cornwall with her husband, Bill. If you wish to join others in Addison County with an interest in creating a welcoming community, email Abi at [email protected].

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