By Tim Hayes

Sitting in the car dealership’s Service Department waiting area, suffering through an overly kinetic Rachael Ray soufflé demonstration on a TV with the volume set for someone vacuuming beside you, I saw one of the technicians waving to me and I gleefully walked with him out to the counter.

Did I say gleefully?  Well, that sure didn’t last long.  After racking up all of the fixes and replacements and adjustments needed on my 10-year-old workhorse car, I learned the final tab would land somewhere north of a grand.  The knees only buckled once, a new personal record.

Two hours later, and a checkbook a lot lighter, I drove toward home and realized the gas tank ran pretty low.  Pulling in to a convenience store/gas station, thinking only of filling up here and lying down at home, I opened my driver’s-side door and instantly heard it.

“Sir!  Sir!” cried the 60-ish gentleman in work clothes, pointing at my car and hustling toward me.  Aw, for Pete’s sake, I thought – don’t tell me there’s something ELSE wrong with this bucket of bolts!

By this time, the fellow had run up to the other side of the gas pump, still calling out, “Sir!  Sir!”

“Hi, is anything the matter?  What can I do for you?” I cautiously replied.

“Well, Sir, I wondered if you could help me,” he said.  (Hmmm.  Shields up, Mr. Sulu.)

“See, we’re out of gas.  We pushed our truck over there to the station, but we don’t have any cash on us, and we’re late to a job as it is.  Do you think you might be able to buy some gas for me?”

He came around the side of the pump holding a five-gallon plastic gas can.  This marked the first time a stranger has ever asked me for something as practical as gasoline.  Normally it’s money.  We’ve all experienced that.  This felt different, though, somehow.  More genuine.  Less sketchy.

Within the span of about three seconds, the following chain of thought zapped across my cerebellum:  Is this guy legit?  Is there any threat here?  Is there any way he can pilfer something, knock me out, or steal my car?  How much can five gallons cost, anyway?

Deciding that none of those possibilities felt even remotely possible, the next three seconds sounded like this inside my noggin:  I’ve been in this guy’s shoes a time or two.  All things considered, my life is so wonderful I can hardly believe it.  What did Sister Dorothy tell us in first grade? – Oh yeah, “Jesus is a part of every person you meet.”  Yeah, okay.  Let’s buy Jesus some gas.

So I slid my card, punched my octane selection, and pumped five gallons of gasoline into my new friend’s can.  We shared some stilted small talk while the can got filled, and as he screwed the cap back on, he thanked me, I wished him a great rest of the day, and started the transaction to actually put some gas in my car this time.

With the pain of the costly car repairs of earlier that morning if not forgotten, then at least placed into better perspective, I got back behind the wheel and started pulling away – when I heard it.

“Sir!  Sir!”  My buddy’s partner, the same gas can in tow but now empty, calling out to another customer who had just pulled up to a pump.

Was it a scam after all?  What’s the difference?  Sometimes your best intentions may fall prey to some less-than-virtuous plans.  As Mother Teresa used to say, “Do it anyway.”

We are called to help each other.  You never know when you may be on the asking end of such a situation.  Sister Dorothy, wherever she is today, doggone it, had been proven right again.

Copyright 2016 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting