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I’m standing at the side of the road, staring at a flat tire.
Beside me I have a donut spare and an assortment of metal gizmos whose purpose is not readily apparent. The donut spare is inflated, which is rather lucky considering I haven’t looked at the spare since I bought the car seven years ago.
It’s Friday afternoon. It’s sunny and warm. I’ve got things to do, but I’m not late for anything. I suppose it’s an ideal time to have a flat tire. If I need it, road-side assistance is a phone call away.
Nearby, a young man (30-ish) has just met his boys (ages five and six, maybe) coming off the school bus. He’s got his daughter in a stroller. He asks me if I need help.
“Do you know how to change a tire?” I respond.
He replies, “I’m a mechanic. I live a few doors down. Let me go drop the kids and get some tools. It might be a few minutes. My wife is getting ready for work.” I tell him to please take his time. I’m not going anywhere.
I get out my phone, download the owner’s manual for my car, and start reading. Hey, two of those strange-looking tools fold out into mini wheel chocks. That’s smart. I pick up the ridiculously inadequate wheel wrench that came with my car. I try loosening the wheel nuts. Not a chance—I would seriously hurt myself trying to get the wheel off with this tool.
The young man is coming up the sidewalk now. He still has the two boys and his daughter in a stroller. I guess his wife is still getting ready for work. The youngest boy is carrying a cordless impact wrench. He makes it look heavy. The older boy is carrying a plastic case.
Even the impact wrench won’t loosen my tire bolts. We’re going to need a breaker bar. The two boys hang with me while my good samaritan (never did get his name) runs home, pushing the stroller, and runs back with a breaker bar. The young girl in the stroller looks a little wide-eyed and confused, but she seems willing to go along with it. The nuts finally yield.
The boys take turns using the impact wrench to remove the nuts. We install the donut and they get to tighten them up again. Then the older lad gets a lesson in how to use an electronic torque wrench. He’s not strong enough to get to 85 ft-lbs. Dad helps.
Spare tire installed, we start packing up. I thank the young man sincerely. “Can I offer you something for your help?” I ask him. He shakes his head and says, “Have a nice weekend.”
Can you imagine what this guy’s after-school routine is like? Three young kids—two just home from school. His wife is trying to prepare for work and get out the door. How much will he get to see her today? It stresses me out just thinking about it. But he still stops to help me change a tire.
I wonder what I look like in his eyes. I’m wearing my grubby clothes. I haven’t shaved. Having spent the day working on my home renovation, I have sawdust on me. I look like a slovenly, helpless, unprepared idiot. But he still stops to help me change a tire.
These days I really feel the weight of all of the negative emotion in the world. I encounter so many people who are rude, impatient, and inconsiderate. It’s depressing.
Then this guy stops to help me change a tire.
We find hope in the strangest places. That young man will never know that he gave me a gift far greater than help with a flat tire.