When my husband retired from driving in 2020, we traded in our other vehicles and bought a new one. In the process of downsizing to one vehicle, we had two sets of new jumper cables still in the boxes, waiting for a failed battery rescue. They were premium, twenty-four feet long and in the most adorable round zipper case with a handle, cute as could be. I could not return the extra, as it was far past the return window. Deciding they were too new to donate, I just drove around with the extra set in my back seat, admiring them from time to time. After a year of that, I put them in the rear cargo and reminded myself, “I need to do something with those!”
August 24, 2021. Colonoscopy day. They say the prep is the worst part and “they” are not exaggerating. My husband was cranky and silent as we drove to the outpatient surgery center. I dropped him off at the front, parked in the exterior lot two blocks away, and accompanied him inside. After his procedure and the physicians debrief, the nurse wheeled him outside. “Where is your car?” She snapped. “It is two blocks away in the outside parking lot,” I replied. She was not happy. “Well, hurry up because I have to get back in. We’re really short-handed!” The weather was steamy and in the nineties. Out of necessity, I went inside another building to use the potty before the eighty-mile drive home.
As I approached the lot, I saw an older couple hobbling along, him with a cane and her with a walker. I asked, “Where are you going?” He replied, “Right over to that building. They don’t have any valet parking today due to COVID. We can’t make it that far.” Feeling pressured to reach my car and retrieve my husband from the impatient nurse, I said, “They have a golf cart for transport. If you call that number.” I pointed to the sign. “We called it twice, and they said soon but that was half an hour ago!” the man replied. I walked over to the lot attendant. “Please call for the golf cart. These people need help.” He said he had already called, and they would arrive soon. I rushed to my vehicle, jumped in, turned on the AC, and got in the cue. As I approached the pay kiosk, I glanced over at the couple. They were sweaty and resting on the bumper of a car, looking weary and sad. The thermostat read 96 degrees. Helping them crossed my mind. Quickly, I decided with cars backed up behind me, my injured shoulder, and with my husband waiting for his ride two blocks away, I paid and left the lot. I glanced again in my rear mirror and their desolate faces. They looked miserable, hot, and dejected.
On the drive home, I continued thinking about the couple. Did they get a ride? Why didn’t I drive them over there? Could I have managed her walker with my bad shoulder? Did they have to wait a long time? Their faces haunted me, and I continued questioning myself. That night and for many nights afterward, I lay awake thinking about them and having regrets. What happened to obedience and service? I prayed for forgiveness, as I knew I could have helped but chose not to, remaining a spectator and ignoring God. Who am I? Why did I do that? What would St. Benedict have done? According to Chapter 4 of the Rule, we develop humility with perseverance and pushing through unpleasant circumstances (Sutera, 2021). I knew I had let them down, I let myself down, and I let God down.
October 12, 2021. An unseasonably sweltering day. I drove the eighty miles to the hospital but this time it was my husband’s MRI at the imaging center. Like déjà vu, I let him out at the curb, found a parking space two blocks away, hiked to the inside where it was cool, got screened for COVID, and found a comfortable chair. I was cautioned not to leave the area under any circumstances while he was having the procedure. As I propped open my Kindle, an older woman rushed around the waiting area, asking every man, “Do you have a jump?” They all said no. She walked away toward the door. I put down my book, stood up, and said, “I do. I have jumper cables!”
I followed her out to see where she parked and hurried two blocks to my car, then drove over to hers. I popped the hatch, grabbed the cute little round case, and removed the jumper cables. As I handed them to her, she lamented, “This old car conks out all the time!” After we got her car started, she detached them, handed them back, and I said, “No, keep them. These are extras! And you need them.” She exclaimed, “These are brand new! I can’t take these. I need to pay you!” I said no again, jumped in my car, and drove off to find another parking space. As I hiked back to the building, she pulled away smiling, waving, and grinning. I went back into the building, got screened for COVID again, and explained why I left and needed reentry. That day, I learned that nothing is more beautiful than meeting Christ in the power of helping others.
By Jan Vinita White, Oblate of St. Benedict
Reference: Sutera, J. (2021). St. Benedict’s Rule, Inclusive Translation. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN.