Sisyphus, with car, in winter

March 7, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 7, 2017

Back in the 1990s, I saw something that subtly but permanently altered the way I engage with the world.

I was working my first job out of college, a position that I’d held for more than two years at the time this happened. For some reason, I’d gone to the office to work for a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. It was a bitterly cold winter day. Earlier in the week, a storm had passed through, and some ice and snow remained on the roads.

The company where I worked was located in an obscure office park a stone’s throw from the New York–New Jersey state line. The park was situated on a hillside, and so the roads and the parking lot were graded. The angle was not particularly steep, but it was enough to come into play when your car’s tires were struggling to get traction.

Such was the case that afternoon. When I stepped out of the office, thoroughly bundled up against the cold, and made a beeline for my car, someone else in the same parking lot was spinning his (or her? I don’t know; let’s say his) tires in a futile attempt to back out of his parking spot.

I ignored this person, desperate as I was to get to my car and put the key in the ignition and turn the heat on ALL THE WAY UP!!! And that’s what I proceeded to do.

Fortunately for this anonymous motorists, I wasn’t the only other person in the office park.

As it happened, a coworker of mine named Jim had also been in the office. He stepped outside just a moment or two after I did. Jim was a tall fellow with a slightly goofy voice and a ready smile. He was also a Midwesterner — if memory serves, he hailed from somewhere in Minnesota — and a good person through and through.

When he left the office, Jim did a simple and very decent thing. He walked right over to the struggling motorist, offered to assist the driver and then gave the car a push. As so often happens, the combination of mechanical horsepower and a little good old-fashioned human muscle freed the car from its Sisyphean snare after just a few seconds. Jim and the driver, as I recall, exchanged happy waves and the driver rolled off to resume the rest of his life.

I felt disappointed and ashamed of my decision-making. As so many people do, I had a conception of myself as a good and decent human being. But in this routine situation, I’d acted entirely selfishly, sparing not a thought for my fellow person, when the briefest of efforts could have helped this individual.

I don’t want to portray myself as some good Samaritan; there are plenty of times when I ignore people in need. But sometimes I’ll go out of my way just to lend a small hand.

Which may inform the anecdote I share in my next this post

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