BY ANDREW MORKES, FOUNDER & AUTHOR OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND
Why did LaSean stop to help me?
I silently asked myself this question as this taciturn man worked quickly to help me change my tire.
Minutes before, I’d been rocketing north on Interstate 57 toward my mom’s house in Beverly. That is, until I heard a loud explosion. I could say “bang,” but it really sounded like an explosion. I wrestled with the steering wheel to regain control of the car. The stench of burning rubber permeated my vehicle—even through closed windows—and I saw grey smoke and shards of black rubber in the rearview mirror. Amidst honking horns from angry drivers, I turtled the car from the far left hand lane to the right hand shoulder, where there was more safe pavement to assess the damage.
I put on my hazards, then exited my vehicle. Car after car and truck after truck zoomed by. It’s an incredibly humbling feeling going from zooming down the highway at 65 miles per hour one minute and being stopped dead on the road the next as life goes on around you.
I set up emergency signs and a few collapsible plastic grocery crates near my Mazda because I’d heard too many stories of side-of-the-road highway deaths and didn’t want to be another 10:00 p.m. news headline.
The tire had not been punctured. It had literally exploded. I could put my entire arm into the tire through one of many jagged holes it contained.
I began searching in the back of my car for the jack and other equipment I needed. I’d changed many tires, but not in years and never on the Mazda. I found the donut spare tire first, but its air pressure looked low. One problem at a time I thought to myself. For a few minutes, I couldn’t find the jack, but then realized that it was secreted in one of my car’s weird small storage areas. I began looking for the other tools I’d need to do the job.
But suddenly, I saw a truck parked behind me. I didn’t hear it pull up. I walked up to the truck, and told a man whom I eventually learned was named LaSean what happened. Within seconds he was crouched near what was left of my front tire. He placed the jack and asked me to get the turning rod, but as I struggled to find it in my vehicle, he ran to his truck and got his own. LaSean worked quickly and quietly. He changed the tire 10 times faster than I would have. I guessed he was a mechanic or worked on cars a lot. I wanted to ask him what he did for a living (the curious writer in me), but he worked intensely and without conversation. And the traffic zooming by was deafening. Once we got the donut secured, LaSean asked me if I had a tire inflator. Nope. Revoke my Auto Repair merit badge! He ran to his truck and returned with one that was powered by my car’s cigarette lighter. We stood quietly as the inflator slowly added air to the donut. He was silent except when he said, “I had to stop and get gas a mile or two back. If I hadn’t, I would have been far ahead of you when your tire blew.” I really wanted to ask him why he—amongst hundreds of drivers who had passed me—had stopped to help. I didn’t ask, yet I was immensely grateful that he did so.
Since the inflator was working so slowly, we decided to drive to a gas station on 147th Street to top off the air in the donut. Once the tire was inflated, I thanked LeSean, but also wanted to give him a token of my appreciation for helping me—not that he’d asked me for anything. If this was a movie, I would’ve opened my wallet and pulled out some cash, but when I opened my wallet, I found a sad $5 bill resting there. I’m just one of many people who stopped using cash during the pandemic. (That will change in the future.) I tried the ATM at the gas station. Out-of-service. We drove to another gas station and the ATM there was not working. Embarrassed, I eventually took down LaSean’s address and promised to send him the money. I mailed it today and texted him to let him know it was on the way.
LaSean was a lifesaver in a time of need, but for days afterwards I kept asking myself, “Why did he stop to help me?” Especially in these dangerous times of highway shootings and robberies in Chicagoland and the general sour mood in our nation. Our country has become a harsher place in the last few decades. A divisive, angry place at times that threatens to overwhelm our basic humanity and turn us all into raving lunatics. And the pandemic has not helped—making some Americans fearful, angry, indifferent to the plight of strangers, or even close-minded to scientific facts and common sense solutions that should not be politicized. More Americans—young and old—have died of COVID-19 in the last 18 months than have died in every war or military action from World War II to today (about 80 years), but even the massive number of dead is not enough to fix people’s distorted mindsets regarding the importance of mask wearing and vaccines, some people’s views that donning and using these things are an affront to anyone’s personal freedoms, and some people’s unwillingness to sacrifice for the good of the many.
As I pondered this question, I realized (or was reminded) that helping others is a core element of our nature that resides in 99 percent of human beings—or so I like to believe. It’s a goodness that is as vast as an ocean in some people, while just a tiny desert stream in others. The “water” can deepen as a result of good behaviors and positive actions or evaporate via negative thoughts and actions.
And while I still pondered the question of LaSean stopping for a stranger, I thought of two events from my own life and one of many I’d heard from the aftermath of 9/11 that gave me some perspective on the events of the day.
The first occurred when Amy and I lived in Lakeview. One summer night, we were cleaning up the kitchen after dinner when we heard a woman’s blood-curdling scream in the alley behind our house. Amy started running down the back stairs a full five seconds before it dawned on me what was happening. I joined the race down the stairs to the alley. We were the first ones to arrive and render assistance. A young women had been pistol-whipped and robbed. A few other people eventually came to help, but I was surprised at the hundreds who lived nearby that hadn’t sought to help her or even step out on their back porches to see what happened. The police eventually came and cared for the woman. What amazed me was how quickly my wife responded and ran toward an unknown dangerous situation. Her goodness that night was (and is) that of the vast Pacific Ocean.
The second event occurred about 10 years ago in Jefferson Park. My wife, myself, and our 18-month-old son were heading home from a visit to his pediatrician. As I was driving, I looked over and saw what looked like a big bundle of old clothes piled on the sidewalk. My first thought was that “someone dropped their laundry,” but then something made me pull over because I suddenly felt like someone was in trouble. As I walked up to the pile of clothes (which turned out to be a big brown trench coat), a person under the coat began moving. A very frail, very old woman looked up and said hello to me. I helped her up, and Amy called an ambulance. The lady told us her name was Mary. We first offered Mary a seat in our car to let her catch her breath and then a ride home, but she demurred. So we stood there on the sidewalk holding hands. No one came outside of their homes to help. Mary continued to grasp my hand, and I steadied her until the firefighters arrived. As we were leaving, one of the firefighters thanked me and patted me on the back—as if he’d never seen a Good Samaritan before. In the end, I’d acted because I saw someone in need. It felt great to help someone without expectations of a payoff. And I realized that LaSean probably did the same thing for me.
Finally, I want to share a story that moved me this week during the lead-up to the commemoration of the 9/11 attacks. Evil visited America on that day. The terrorists murdered thousands of innocent people—parents, sisters, brothers, cousins, wives, husbands, children, and friends. They destroyed the futures of so many and their families. Many heroic first responders died that day and as Americans we should be grateful for their service and pray for their families who suffer to this day. The terrorists also caused lifelong suffering to the brave first responders who survived that day, but who have had terrible health problems since then due to the toxic dust at the scenes of the attack and other factors. But amidst the darkness, there were stories of courage, goodness, and self-sacrifice that lighten the load slightly.
Right around this time 20 years ago, terrorists flew United Airlines Flight 175 into Tower II of the World Trade Center. A fist-sized piece of metal from the plane lodged near the heart of a man named Silvion Ramsundar, who later learned that he also had a collapsed lung and a broken left arm. Bloodied, but still able to walk, Ramsundar began descending from the 78th floor. He made it to the 65th floor, but his injuries were serious and he needed to rest despite the danger. Doug Brown and Stan Kapica had also started descending from their office on the 70th floor. When they reached the 65th floor, they saw Ramsundar. “He was burned and he was dirty,” Brown recalled in a story about the day at NorthJersey.com. “His head looked like a charcoal briquette when it gets hot. It was gray.” Brown and Kapica tried to stop the bleeding. They each took one of Ramsundar’s arms and began walking him down the many flights of stairs while the building burned and large cracks grew in the walls of the stairwell. Brown and Kapica could have kept going when they encountered Ramsundar, but risked their own lives to try to save him. Some people who did the same as Brown and Kapica died that day. All three men made it out of World Trade Center II minutes before it collapsed. Ramsundar was one of only 16 people from above the 77th floor to survive the attacks. Good came from evil and Ramsundar and Brown remain friends to this day. Click here to read more about this amazing story and friendship.
Asking the Wrong Question
Life, death, and personal sacrifice have been on my mind a lot this week due to the commemoration of 9/11, my blown tire and the goodwill of LaSean, the declining health of loved ones, and other factors.
I’ve realized that wondering why people help strangers is the wrong question. Rather, the better question is “Why didn’t I help someone when I could?” I’m certainly guilty of passing up opportunities to help strangers at times. Especially on days when my ocean of goodness is shrinking or my own life challenges seem overwhelming. I can do better, and so can we all. I vow to be the one who pulls over on the road or runs toward danger to help rather than let opportunities to do good pass by.
I don’t have a solution to fix what seems like a growing darkness in the world, but I know that simple acts of kindness repair the world—at least in some way. We can’t afford to hunker down and wait out the darkness in the hope that someone else will step up. But remember that you don’t have to be young and healthy and/or run into a burning building struck by planes to make a difference (although those people should have a special place in the thereafter). Both small and large steps make the world a better place. Thanks again, LaSean, for choosing to help me on a sunny day on a busy stretch of highway. I hope to pay it forward in the future.
Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes
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ABOUT ANDREW MORKES
I have been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job Openings; Nontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDs; They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titles. They Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school.
In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering Careers, What Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).
My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.Advertisementshttps://c0.pubmine.com/sf/0.0.3/html/safeframe.html