It was Friday afternoon, about one hour before Shabbat, and I was anxiously driving my wife home from the Atlanta hospital where she had just undergone an anesthetized medical procedure. Her release had taken much longer than anticipated. After a short distance I realized that the car was beginning to wobble. I pulled over to the curb, jumped out to inspect things, and discovered that the left front tire had lost half of its air and would soon be entirely flat.
There was no time to replace it with my spare, even if I knew how to do it – which, mechanically challenged as I am, I did not. But there was a gasoline station a few blocks away where I could obtain enough air to get us home before Shabbat.
With my wife, still slightly woozy, in the back seat, I drove slowly to the gas station, the car hobbling fitfully on three and a half tires. Once in the station, I pulled up to the air pump, grateful that we could now get home quickly.
Except there was a hand-scrawled sign on the face of the air pump: “Temporarily Out of Order.”
I took a deep breath, said a silent little prayer, and continued my uneasy 20-minute trek toward home. At the next intersection I stopped at a traffic light alongside a garish yellow pick-up truck. The driver was a young man in his twenties, complete with a reversed baseball cap, a Confederate flag flying from his aerial, the requisite rifle stretched out along his rear window, and obviously not Jewish. He rolled down his window and called out to me, “Hey, you got a flat there, fella!”
”I know,” I replied, and in desperation added, ”you think you could possibly help me change it? I’m taking my wife home from the hospital.”
The light turned to green. “Sorry,” he said rather gruffly, “ain’t nuthin’ I can do.” And he roared off in a cloud of foul-smelling black exhaust. His license plate showed that he was from Cherokee Country, a rural area in North Georgia.
“Ain’t nuthin’ I can do.” And he roared off in a cloud of foul-smelling black exhaust.
So it goes, I muttered to myself, he must have noticed my yarmulke and beard. Probably an old fashioned, genuine redneck anti-Semite. I was particularly annoyed by his brusqueness and the roar with which he pulled away.
I continued driving – very carefully and gingerly. At the next corner a garish yellow pick- up truck had pulled over to the curb. Standing beside it was the young redneck. He was motioning me to park behind him.
I stopped and he walked over to me. “I just remembered. I have one of them temporary air fillers. It gives enough air to go about ten miles. Would that get you to where you’re goin?”
“Definitely,” I said eagerly, “let’s do it.”
He went back to his truck and pulled out a small air compressor. ”This here baby’ll do the trick for you. I plumb forgot I owned one.” He kneeled to the ground, attached the compressor to the tire, and gradually the air whooshed in and rounded out the tire to its full, pristine glory. Deliverance! I offered to pay the cost of the compressor, but he waved me off. “Forget it. Ain’t nuthin’. Happy to do a good deed for a change.”
And once again he jumped into his truck and roared off in a cloud of black exhaust. This time the exhaust fumes smelled like perfume.
With God’s help and the help of the Confederate angel He had sent to help us, we staggered home, the tire slowly turning flat again, just in time for Shabbat. Throughout the day I could not get this young country boy out of my mind.
Several thoughts emerged:
1. Surface impressions are frequently wrong. I was certain that this fellow was a mean and selfish anti-Semite who cared about nothing but himself and his yellow truck. I was badly mistaken. He carried a strong streak of compassion and kindness, and a robust conscience. Thou shalt not stereotype (nor use pejoratives like “redneck”).
2. Do not evaluate a person by what he does today. By tomorrow he could change and better himself. People are very complex; they are dynamic not static. Like a car — and a pick-up truck — people are always on the road. I wondered what had gone on in his mind in the interval between his curt ”ain’t nuthin’ I can do” to his “happy to do a good deed for a change.” What caused him to switch gears so quickly? Then I remembered the powerful words of Jeremiah 17:9: “Complex is the heart above all things… who can know it? Only I the Lord can search the heart….”
3. One can never know what a single, isolated act of kindness can achieve. With his simple action he had eased my growing anxiety, made it possible for my still unsteady wife to come safely home, and for our entire family to celebrate the Shabbat in joy and in peace.
My country friend taught me an extremely valuable lesson: before passing judgment on anyone, pause and think. Better still, try to not to pass any judgment on anyone. That is not our job; the world is blessed with its own Divine Judge.