I Get By, With a Little Help

“You wouldn’t jump me, should you?”
The young man spoke from the window of his truck, stopped in front of the bank’s ATM. I had just pulled around the trucks open door, miffed that, once again, someone had parked in the “No Parking” zone. I heard something different in the words the man spoke, different than his intent: “You wouldn’t mind giving me a jump, would you,” he asked again. I laughed, and asked if he had cables; he said he did, and I maneuvered my car to allow the connection of my live battery to his dead one. As he connected the cables, I told the man, who later introduced himself as Ethan Crites, that I initially thought that he was asking if I was going to assault him. “Dude,” I told him, “I’m peaceful; I wouldn’t jump you.”
In the Heartland Film Festival offering, “Across The Line,” a hitchhiker mistakes a man’s failing car for someone who has come to assist him. The Israeli and the Palestinian manage — comically — to work through their language difficulties to come to peace and understand ways to help each other. My car is as ragged and worn as the Israeli character’s car, yet I drove past its warning signs and ran out of gas at the corner of Washington and Ritter. I imposed on my friend Paula, creative director of this paper, to retrieve my gas can, fill it and rescue me. As I stood shivering in front of Jack and Jill, no less than four strangers offered to assist me. One lady tried to get my attention as I was calling a tow company and a pickup driver asked if I had help coming. Another driver turned around and pulled up next to me to ask if I wanted help to push my car out of the crosswalk. All of them, I presume, merely saw a person in need, and not someone likely to “jump” them.
The poet Alan Dugan wrote of a man’s independence and self -sufficiency, who can build his own joy and misery, capable of “nailing (his) left hand to the left hand crosspiece…” but admitting that he would “need a hand to nail the right…” There is something shameful, to me, in my failure to maintain the proper level of gas in my car to insure that it will go, when and where I need it. But I am the grateful beneficiary of the “kindness of strangers,” a bounty of kindnesses that I have received from others, some of which I have passed on. Ethan Crites and his friend had two dirt bikes in the back of their pickup, and he told me that he had just retuned to Indiana from Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. “That battery has been running all day.” He used to live on the Eastside, not far from the ATM where his overtaxed battery had failed. When he saw me, he saw the possibility of help, and not — as I thought — the possibility of harm. I was poorer in spirit for having mistaken his view, but I have recovered. I believe that most of us mean no harm to the others among us, and we are richer when warmly embracing that assumption.
And as my freshly gassed car took me away from Washington and Ritter, trailing the grace of persons known and unknown, I knew what the filmmaker of “Across The Line” was trying to say, and what can happen when we leap both language and perception barriers: just like Ethan Crites, I get by, with a little help, both from strangers and friends.