“Stranger” is a word that we use to describe the people around us whom we have yet to meet or know by name. The root of this word is another common word, “strange.” Doesn’t that seem strange in itself? Most of those people around us aren’t strange at all; they’re fellow citizens. They provide us with groceries. They deliver our packages. They teach our children. They nurse us back to health. They serve the businesses that we rely on. Why do we call them strangers?
I was walking along the sidewalk this morning at rush hour, about two blocks from a major intersection when I heard a collision. Scores of cars were driving in the direction of the sound, so I figured there would be plenty of people up ahead to help out at the scene. I continued forth at my ordinary pace, ambling toward the intersection.
As drew closer, I could see that two cars had collided there. It was hard to tell what was going on, as so many cars and trucks were jammed in all directions, slowly working their way through the lanes.
Arriving at the intersection, I watched as every one of these various vehicles carefully negotiated the wreckage to make their way to wherever they were going. A woman stood there in the smoke between the two cars that had collided. She was holding her head, crying. Not a single fellow citizen was there to help her. In this case, I think the word “stranger” might actually be apropos.
I put my hand up to stop the flow of traffic and walked out across four lanes against a green light. Drivers scowled at me, but let me by. I stepped up to the woman as asked if she was okay. She told me to check on the passengers in the other car, as they had not yet gotten out of their vehicle.
Appreciating her thoughtfulness, I jogged over to the other car watching as vehicles continued to push on in a slow, steady flow through the intersection. The teenager in the front seat seemed stunned, as was the kindergarten age child in the back.
“Are you injured?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” he replied. Looking into my eyes, he seemed to regain his composure. “Can you help me pull over to the side?” he asked helplessly.
Again I put my hand up and stepped forth to halt the flow of traffic, now from the opposite direction. His car wheezed and sputtered as he pulled through the intersection, then parked beside the curb.
I picked up a few sharp scraps from the center of the highway, then helped the woman who was still standing there alone over to the sidewalk by the other driver and child.
Where are we going in such a hurry that we sometimes forget to bring our humanity with us? Those people on the roads that we share are essential to our own survival and well-being. Must we know them by name to care about them?