July 1, 2023
Thomas walked along Fortune Street swinging his brief case casually. He was clearing his head after a stressful day at the brokerage.
Assessing risk and playing the odds all day long was exhausting, but it paid the bills. The Jacaranda trees which lined the street were in full bloom. The sun filtering through the quietly rustling branches was pleasantly warm as Thomas strolled along the sidewalk’s purple carpet. He could not imagine a better end to a Friday afternoon.
The sudden screeching of brakes and a horrible metal on metal impact jolted Thomas from his contemplation. He looked up to see a blue sedan T-boned by a large white van. The driver of the van flung open the van door and staggered to the sidewalk. He approached Thomas.
The van driver had a long, bleeding gash across his forehead. He slurred his words.
“I could could na not stop in time. Cut me off. Is OK?”
“Sit down here,” said Thomas, lowering him to a nearby bench.
He called 911.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“There has been an accident. One of the drivers is injured and needs an ambulance.”
“How about the other car?” asked the dispatcher.
“I don’t know,” said Thomas, looking up. “Oh no! The car is on fire.” He let the phone drop from his hand.
Flames were lapping up from the front wheel wells of the blue car. The engine was on fire. Thomas looked around the street, there was no one to be seen. The van driver had passed out on the bench. Thomas saw that there was a woman in the car pounding on the window. She could not get out. He ran toward the car. The heat from the fire was intense. Too risky he said to himself. He took a couple of steps back. The woman in the car was screaming. Thomas still had his brief case in one hand. It would probably break the window and free the woman. Too hot. Too dangerous. The fire department will be here soon. I can’t. I can’t help.
A minute went by, then two. The fire swept suddenly under the car reaching the gas tank. The car exploded in a fireball, throwing shrapnel in every direction. Bits of metal flew past Thomas’s ear and the blast pushed him to the ground. The sound of sirens pierced the ringing in Thomas’s head. Too late, he thought. Too late.
After a trip to the hospital to be examined and released Thomas walked the two blocks to his house, quiet and still a little dazed. Once home he settled into his easy chair and picked up his bible. The worn cover felt unfamiliar in his hands as he opened the book to a random chapter. He began to read:
25 On one occasion an expert in the law…29 …asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
A flood of guilt washed over Thomas. He was filled with regret for not helping the woman in the car. None of his excuses at the time relieved him of his failure. He mourned the death of the woman. In the depths of angst, he fell asleep in the chair.
When Thomas awoke he felt empty of all but the regret. At work the next day he told no one of the accident, so vast was the measure of his rue. He had lost the ability to assess the risks of his investment portfolio. None of it seemed important. None of it mattered.
He had walked to work to give himself time to think. He walked home hoping to be relieved of the stress he felt from his guilt. The day was just as beautiful as it had been the day before, but the rustling of Jacaranda branches grated on his nerves. The filtered sun stabbed into his eyes. The purple flowers were a stain on the sidewalk. Thomas sighed deeply.
His troubled mea culpa was awakened by the sound of running footsteps. Two men in black hoodies were running down the sidewalk toward him, chasing a woman. She was middle aged and carrying a large purse. She was losing ground to the chasing men. Thomas’s first impulse was to step aside, off the sidewalk. He realized in that moment that he was standing next to the bench from yesterday. The accident came rushing back to him. He looked around and saw some teenagers watching from the other side of the street. They were making no moves to intervene. Farther down the block was a patrol car, but it would not arrive in time. The assailants were almost to him.
The parable of the Good Samaritan came suddenly to mind. Thomas dove between the woman and the men as they passed. The first man tripped over Thomas as he lay across the sidewalk. The second man fell into his partner. Thomas rolled over to see the woman running down the street toward the oncoming patrol car. The car stopped and the woman pointed to Thomas. She’s safe, he thought. The policeman began to run toward him. The two hooded men did not notice the policeman as they struggled to their feet. One of them had taken out a knife. Thomas put his hands out in defense, but the knife came down hard into his chest.
Stunned, Thomas felt no pain. He thought about the woman he had just saved. All the regret of his inaction at the fiery accident washed away. This was the purest, most satisfying act of kindness he had performed in all his life. Thomas took one last labored breath, smiled and died.
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