69. I stood out of view but close enough to hear. A town meeting in my rural community in the highlands of Guatemala, where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. The meeting was about me, a debate over whether I could use water from the well, a valuable right handed down from generation to generation. I was an outsider, the first in the community, so the question had not been broached before. Dona Vicenta stood up and proclaimed no. No outsiders could use a right that was inherited. I would have to figure something else out, or leave. Another community member stood up and countered: “Listen. If we were in the United States and in need, Dona Stacey would welcome us into her home. She would give us food, water, a bed to sleep on.”
A few days ago, 120 miles from home after our 1600 mile road trip, my partner and I stopped to view the setting sun over the Columbia River. We marveled at the beauty of nature, wondered about the endless flocks of Canadian geese honking their way through the valley, and laughed at what good gas mileage we were getting. Driving away from that view, the warmth of the setting sun still on our skin, the car began to lurch and slow. Riding on the shoulder of the highway, coasting in neutral we glanced at the gas gauge, reading 1/4 tank full, and realized all at once that it had gotten stuck. Sputtering to a halt, we called AAA, to find we had both let our memberships lapse. We donned our headlamps, put on our running shoes, and began to jog the 2 miles down the highway to the nearest gas station. Dark now, hundreds of cars zoomed past our bouncing lights. A large truck carrying two other cars pulled over in front of us, offering us a ride. Igor was his name. A barely 20 year old immigrant from Ukraine, with about 10% english fluency. He drove us to get gas, telling us he had arrived into the US 2.5 months ago, and had already driven 30,000 miles, delivering cars. As we got out at the gas station, he said “I’ll wait and take you back”. We returned, he gave us cookies and water from his stash, and returned us to our car. Sacrificing his own time and priorities, Igor gave us safety, comfort, ease, and a memory of goodness.
How do we care for each other? Do we just care for our precious few? Or for the perfect stranger? I have no answers, but in my life, I’ve often found that it is those with the least who give the most.