On Friday, July 29th, my car died a painful and ignoble death. While driving on a quiet stretch of road outside King George, intersecting Rt. 3 and the road we live on, my 2009 white Hyundai Accent gave a slight jolt as I applied the accelerator and then started to coast out of control. I felt the jolt in my foot, knew immediately that the foot pedal had lost all tension and, after voicing my concern to Nancy that “something had just gone wrong with the car,” guided my car gently to the periphery of the shoulder. I turned off the engine and tried to restart it. I had battery but no turnover. Something was definitely wrong. We found out the next day that my timing belt had snapped, and on its unrestricted way through the mechanisms of the car, had destroyed the engine. A $3,500 repair on a car with 230,000 miles; it was time to say goodbye to an old friend.
A financial tragedy to be sure, and one that we’re wrestling with to rectify, there is another part of the story that deserves more attention. My car’s ultimately final voyage was to be a special one. Friday, when I left the house, I was accompanied by both Nancy and our son, John Adams. We were heading into Fredericksburg for a few quick errands and then up to Washington D.C. to visit the National Zoo, and then further still up I-95 to the Maryland House rest area, where John Adams was to be handed off to his grandparents for a 5-day vacation with them. Nancy and I would then return home. My point being that most of the day was to be spent traveling up and down one of the busiest and most dangerously driven interstates in the country. When the timing belt snapped, the car lost all acceleration; all I could do was steer and coast. Had that belt snapped on I-95 at 65+ mph with us in a center lane, or passing, or on an exit ramp, given the nature of I-95 traffic and the average quality of driving on daily dangerous display, I don’t know what my car’s condition would be today, or whether myself, my wife, and son would be here to talk about it after the fact. What I do know is that the belt snapped a little over a mile from my home, on a quiet two-lane artery with limited controlled traffic behind me, and I had ample time to react, hit my hazards, and signal my intentions to get my car and my family to safety. For that alone I am grateful, but the story doesn’t end there.
No fewer than three people came to our aid almost immediately after the incident occurred. Nancy determined to walk back to our house – more than 1.5 miles – to retrieve her car while John Adams and I stayed with the vehicle and called AAA. The sooner she started the walk, the sooner we could get John Adams out of his car seat, off the periphery of the shoulder, out of danger, into air conditioning, and out of the midday Virginia summer sun. Moments after she departed, a friend of mine – we’ll call her V – pulled up and offered her assistance. I told her there was nothing that she could do, that we had the situation under control, and that we had already called for a tow. She wished us well and departed. However, I felt better knowing that, despite no overt help from her, we were not alone; we had a Samaritan watching over us.
Moments after V’s departure, Nancy returned much sooner than expected with her car. We got John Adams immediately out of my car, re-strapped him into Mommy’s air-conditioned car, and all immediate danger to him was ended. With my mind preoccupied with John Adams’s safety and the impending tow, I didn’t think to ask Nancy how she got back to us so quickly. And, in any case, there was little time for chatter as who I thought was our second Samaritan was about to show up.
A local sheriff’s car pulled up behind me with its lights on. It was our friend – this one I’ll call T – from Animal Control. She indicated that my car was not far enough onto the shoulder for safety and, together, we proceeded to push and steer my Hyundai far enough onto the shoulder that it was out of all potential danger. I thanked her, told her the tow was on its way, and she headed off to work wishing us well. Two people, Two Samaritans, both of whom I knew, had shown up when we needed them to provide support, emotional or other, to keep my family safe. But there had been three, and the third was a total surprise.
After T left and we had a moment to ourselves, Nancy looked at me and said, “You may be wondering how it is I got home and back so fast.” An elderly veteran (whose air-conditioning in his house had fritzed out) had seen her while he was riding about in his own air-conditioned car to stay cool for the afternoon. He pulled over and offered her a ride back to our place, sensing her need, and perhaps just because he was a good person with time on his hands. He dropped Nancy at our door. On their short trip together he volunteered to her that he had had a series of strokes and couldn’t remember names. As a result they never bothered to exchange names. Our third surprise Samaritan embodied bitter sweetness, beauty, and anonymity.
The day worked out as you might expect: we shadowed the car to the repair shop, went into D.C but arrived too late to get our son to the zoo, met with Nancy’s parents at Maryland House on I-95, said good-bye to our son for a few days, and headed home. The financial burden on our family – incurring a new car payment months from being free from one – is troublesome in the extreme. But that notwithstanding, what keeps occupying my mind is how much worse the day could have gone. Had we been on I-95 or some other major highway when the belt snapped what could have happened to us? Would the surrounding traffic have reacted to our emergency situation safely and responsibly, or would our outcome have been grimmer and statistical? I just don’t or can’t know. What I do know is that three Samaritans – V, T, and Unnamed Warm Veteran – stopped and offered my family assistance when it needed it the most, and for that we are forever grateful. But I also suspect – in fact I’m pretty sure – that a Fourth Samaritan was watching over my family that day, and snapped the timing belt at just the right time, so that I could coast my family to safety on a quiet stretch of road, and that we would be in view of more conventional assistance.
To that Power, Force, Karmic Debt, God, Goddess, or What-Have-You, I can only say:
Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.