The Samaritan's friend


I AM SITTING on the deck of a gorgeous beach home in Bethany Beach, Del. It is morning, cool, breezy and quiet.

Off to the west, high clouds are drifting southward. Behind me to the east, the early morning sun is resting briefly on the glittering ocean before pushing up into the sky for its daily round.

All of this is especially pleasant because my wife and I are staying in this lovely place free of charge. My brother, Steve, who is also here with his wife, is not paying either. Indeed, he is the reason for this free pass to beach heaven.

Several years ago a serious accident happened in front of Steve as he was driving home from work. He pulled over to help. The woman driver, alone in the car, was injured seriously and in even more danger from a huge telephone pole teetering precariously above her windshield.

Undaunted, Steve lifted her from the car and out of harm's way. He knelt next to the injured woman, held her hand, prayed with her and assured her that she was not dying (as she thought). When the paramedics came he wished her well and slipped away quietly.

Not long afterward, a young man showed up at Steve's place of employment asking for the man who had "stopped to help" a woman in an accident. Apparently the police or paramedics had remembered (or recorded) the company name on his truck. The young man was the woman's son. He wept as he thanked my brother for helping his mother.

The next week a huge floral arrangement arrived at Steve's home. Similar bouquets came at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Then a note arrived saying that he and his wife and other family members could use this lovely beach home for a week each summer for as long as they wished.

When we arrived at the Bethany Beach home, I immediately suggested nicknaming it "The Samaritan's Reward." Steve, who is uncomfortable with halos, replied that we would enjoy ourselves more if we forgot the story and just seized the day.

Sorry, but I can't forget that act of compassion so easily. I keep thinking about all the drivers who slowed to rubberneck and drove on, fearing that stopping would bring them harm or get them too involved or even result in their being sued.

Nor can I easily dismiss the thankfulness of the injured. That is also beautiful to contemplate, exceeding even the biblical story in which the Good Samaritan receives no reward or other evidence of gratitude from the mugging victim.

Now as then, not everyone stops to help. A public school teacher tells me he won't touch an injured student; instead, he calls for professional help. A minister friend confesses that he will not stop to help an accident victim. A decent, caring man, he is wise to the ways of the world, especially legal risks to himself and his church.

When I asked Steve specifically why he stopped that day, he shrugged and said he "instinctively wanted to help."

He's right. It was that simple for him. Caring about others, especially those who cannot help themselves, is at his vital center. The only danger he faced that day was driving past and denying his true self.

We live in a dog-eat-dog world in which most people are concerned more about themselves than others. That's human nature, to be sure, but it's an attitude that seems more pronounced today than ever. Sometimes it means looking the other way even when someone's life is in danger.

I admit that I'm not absolutely sure what I would do if I chanced upon a serious accident. I'd like to think I would stop and help. Then again, maybe I'll never know until the moment of truth.

What would you do?

Tom Bisset is general manager of WRBS-FM, an evangelical radio station in Baltimore.

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