To The Man Stranded at the Gas Station:
I saw you when I first pulled in. You were pacing around the gas station, phone in hand, anxiously scrolling. It was clear that you were making phone calls, and whoever you were calling wasn’t answering.
I watched you approach another man exiting the gas station store. He walked right by you as though you were a ghost – I don’t even think he made eye contact with you. With your shoulders slumped, you walked back to your car – the one with the hood propped open and gallon of something resting atop the battery.
We didn’t make eye contact, but I kept you in my sights as I pumped my gas. I watched as you hesitated before you walked toward me – me, a woman alone at a gas station at night. You, a larger-than-me man.
Maybe you wondered to yourself if you should approach me, given the climate of society these days. You possibly could have been worried I would have been frightened.
And truth be told, given my past experiences, given my fear of the dark, and given my general distrust of men, you were right to wonder those things.
But I was watching you, and it was clear you were in distress.
You slowly approached me, and as you neared, you stopped about 15 feet away from me. You remained a respectable distance away – maybe so you wouldn’t alarm me. It was night, after all. And there were very few people around.
“Excuse me – ma’am?” you stammered politely. “Ma’am.”
I heard the fear in your voice. I saw the sadness in your eyes.
“Hi,” I responded just as my gas finished pumping, making eye contact with you. “Are you OK?”
The look in your eyes said it all. The look in your eyes told me that you were at the end of your rope, that you had nothing left to give the world.
“Ma’am, I am sorry to interrupt your night. I’m sorry to have to ask you this,” you started.
But see, you didn’t have to be sorry. Whatever demons you were fighting in that moment, you didn’t have to be sorry for them. You never have to apologize for them.
“This is humiliating,” you continued. Under the florescent lights of the gas station, I could see the tears flooding your eyes – your eyes that were pleading with me for understanding, for forgiveness for interrupting my evening.
As you explained your story, your voice caught on the lump in your throat. You tried so hard to fight back the tears, and as I watched you struggle to ask me for help, I had to fight back the lump in my own throat.
Because you see, I could be you. Any one of those people who so rudely rushed by you, ignoring your requests for help – they could be you.
“I have $0.80 in my bank account. I know no one around here. I was only out here to pick up my paycheck from headquarters, but they closed early. And I didn’t know. I swear, I am a hardworking man. I am trying to get home to my two children. I only came out here for my paycheck, but I couldn’t get it. And now I don’t have enough gas to get back home. Look, I can show you my bank account,” you held up your phone with a broken screen as you anxiously scrolled looking for your bank app.
“Sir, please don’t apologize to me,” I tried to say in my softest voice. “How can I help you? Can I give you a few dollars for some gas?”
You slowly nodded your head as you wiped your eyes with the back of your hand.
As I handed you a $10 bill – cash that I normally don’t ever carry but just happened to have in my pocket that day – you reached out your hand. You were shaking.
I wanted to give you a hug. I wanted to walk over to your car and use my debit card and fill up your tank of gas. I wanted to bring you inside to buy you a sandwich.
Because you see, I could be you. And I hope that should I ever be in your position, stranded at a gas station, anxiously pacing, trying to get home to my family, that someone like me will hear my story and lend a non-judgmental hand.
I don’t see you as a failure. In fact, I saw your strength that night. I saw your respect and I saw your vulnerability. It takes a lot to ask for help. It takes even more to stand in front of a stranger and bare your shortcomings.
When I got home that night, I cried for you. I cried because I couldn’t fill your tank, because I couldn’t buy you dinner. I wanted to be able to do so much more for you that night, because you needed to see a better side of humanity. You needed to feel that you weren’t alone. I gave you only $10 because that’s all I had that day, because I was one day away from payday, and like you, I stretch my budget beyond what it’s capable of handling sometimes.
I hope that you were able to get home that night. I hope that when you got home, you were able to hold your young children whose faces I saw on your broken phone screen, and let go of all of that stress you were holding on to. I hope that you are able to find peace in the hard work you do every day for your family. I hope that you have a renewed sense of faith in humanity – that you know that not everyone out there will ignore you or treat you like dirt because you only have $0.80 in your bank account.
Because we are not our numbers. We are not the money we make or the money we have in our bank accounts. We are not our credit scores or the number of hours we work. We are not the debt we carry or the money we don’t have.
We are the love in our hearts. We are the understanding we have for those around us. And we are compassion we have for humanity.
We all complain (at one time or another) about how shitty people are. We all have a story about that person who did us wrong, cut us off on the highway, or stole our parking spot. We all have experienced the shit side of humanity.
But we all have the power to change it.
We all have the power to give someone hope. We all have the power to change someone’s day. We all have the power to change the course of humanity.
And it doesn’t take thousands of dollars. It doesn’t require government mandates or policy change. It doesn’t require long, drawn out negotiations.
It requires only your understanding that everyone has a story – one that you couldn’t possibly understand in the brief interaction you have in a gas station parking lot. It requires nothing more than your compassion, your love, and your patience.
So this Thanksgiving, this holiday season, I challenge you to change someone’s day. I challenge you to forget your biases, to hold your judgments, and to lend a hand.
A dollar. A hot coffee. A tank of gas.
Be the change you wish to see in the world, because it starts with you.
And to that man in the gas station, I wish you better days. I hope that your days of hardship pass, and that you find more solid footing in your world. I hope that you continue to fight and work hard. I hope that you show those beautiful children of yours what it means to love, to have a strong work ethic, and to appreciate the beauty in the world.
You deserve it. And so does every other person in this world.
Because we are all human.