Author J Dehlin
I purchased an older SUV at a used car lot when my old car gave out. I was two states from home, was all alone with my three children and needed wheels to get back. I was on the interstate about eight hours into my drive home when the car broke down and left me stranded in the middle of nowhere, several hundred miles from my final destination.
I stood outside of the car in the blazing sun while the kids watched me from the windows and wondered how I was going to get us all home. I didn’t have a clue. I did not own a cell phone to call my Dad who was nearly 300 miles up the road. I knew he would come for us…I just didn’t know how to make that happen from the spot I was standing in.
What happened next is nothing short of a miracle. And I have believed in miracles ever since. First, an old Chevy pulled up. A guy leaned out of the window and told me that he was a vet and did not walk well. He said he wasn’t a good mechanic either, nor did he have room for me and all of the kids. What he did have though, was a cell phone. He let me borrow it and I called Dad. Dad told me that I would need to get to a safe place. That was my job. He said he would grab my brother and they would come and get us. That was his job. I immediately felt calmer. But that is not where the story ends.
The nice vet sat in his truck to make sure the ‘lady stranded with the kids’ was safe. Then another amazing thing happened. A van that was traveling on the other side of the freeway saw that there was a broken vehicle on the other side. That man was a mechanic. He and his wife drove a few miles out of their way to the nearest exit and came back to see what was wrong. That was when I found out the vehicle was finished for good. I had had that SUV for all of a day and a half. My ‘As is’ warranty had just expired. He said it needed to be towed. Then he took my children and me to the closest truck stop about 20 miles out of his way and left me in a safe place until my Dad could come for us.
The lady at the diner told all of the truckers that I was stranded and needed whatever help they could give me. I had a half dozen men come up and give me phone cards to call for help. One of them paid for me to get dinner for the kids. After my two little girls had fallen asleep on the benches in the food court, a final act of random kindness came when one of the truckers came over to my 10 year old son. He told my son that he had been a ‘real man’ taking care of his little sisters and telling them stories until they fell asleep. He then bought a huge ice-cream sundae for the boy, which made him feel like a million bucks.
My Dad and brother got there as soon as they could, but it had been hours of waiting. We were finally in safe care, had a ride home with family and got there early the following morning.
What COULD have been one of the most frustrating experiences of my life was changed into one incredible moment after another. I literally witnessed a whole community of strangers coming together to help someone out that was in desperate need. I had so many people paying it forward that I have often wondered that the best of humanity had collected itself on the highway for my benefit that day. A collection of vets, mechanics, truckers, waitresses and family were all angels for us.
My children were able to see firsthand how it feels when somebody reaches out and lifts you up. Instead of drowning that day, we watched people walk on water. It taught us that the smallest of favors adds up to the grandest thing in the world…and that is the lesson that we are all in this big experience together. What we do today makes a difference forever, because we will never be the same. And because we are not the same, we will hopefully go out into the world and create more peace and happiness moving forward.
In the years that followed, we have talked about that day with wonder at how many people got in the game and played that day. It is one of my happiest memories, not one of my worst. I am so grateful for every one of the people who were part of that day. Paying it forward keeps us believing the best about humanity and always, always, always lifts us up.