7.10.2011

Hitchin' A Ride

My picture of that morning has surely faded, but my memory hasn't one little bit; whom do you know that would be willing to go a few extra miles for you?
   It was the summer of 1988.  I had just suffered through a disappointing and painful relationship split that spring, so when my brother’s friend Douglas asked if I wanted to backpack through Europe, I jumped at the chance.  The chance to get away, to forget, to meet new people, explore new places, even visit Spain, the country whose language I’d studied since 9th grade and had been teaching for four years.
   I got the cheapest airline ticket I could find, and Doug met me in Brussels to begin our trek. What an amazing adventure it was.  We rode in new cars and old, fast cars and slow, an 18-wheeler, even a school bus, and we were abundantly blessed to meet so many interesting people as we were ferried from place to place. It was always a snap to get a lift as we hitch-hiked from Belgium to the Strait of Gibraltar, except for on that one sunny Sunday morning in Germany.
   We had spent a lovely evening meeting and getting to know Doris and Matthew, friends of my friend Audrey, whom we’d looked up and connected with in Stuttgart. They invited us to spend the night and after we enjoyed a tasty breakfast, Matthew offered to take us to the highway. He suggested a spot a bit farther down the road than we’d planned, almost an hour’s drive for him. We didn't want to trouble him, but he said he didn’t mind because he was certain we’d have much better luck getting a ride from there en route to our Switzerland destination. We bid Doris adieu and headed out with Matthew. Grateful that he’d gone those extra miles for his weary new friends, we thanked him profusely and offered to return the favor if he ever got back to America.  Then we watched him make a U-turn and head back for his hour-long drive home.  A strong start for what turned into a very slow Sunday.
   As I remember it, there wasn’t much traffic and what traffic there was certainly wasn’t stopping for us. This was a new and somewhat frustrating experience because we’d gotten rides quite handily until now. Wasn’t anyone willing to share their Sunday drive south? An hour went by, leaving us discouraged; two hours passed, and we started to second-guess our spot. But  Matthew was SO sure that this would be the perfect place to catch a lift!  Then, a glimmer of hope. A car slowing down, pulling over . . . could it be . . . our ride to Switzerland? Something about its approach was vaguely familiar . . . Wait, is that . . .  Matthew?  Relief seemed to wash over his face to see that – though we should have been long gone – we were right where he had dropped us off.  We were thrilled, of course, to see a friendly face, but why had he come back? Getting out of the car, Matthew opened up the trunk and handed each of us a welcomed bottle of water. Then he reached back into the trunk, pulled out Doug’s hiking boots and with a simple smile said, “We thought you might need these.” As if it weren’t enough that he'd come back to bring us those boots, we find two chocolate bars, one inside each boot, for a sweet Sunday snack. 
   We were left speechless by Matthew’s kindness and generosity. Could it have been pure coincidence that we had waited for two hours, the exact amount of time that Matthew would need to get back home, find those boots, grab some water and candy, and return to that same spot?  And what about this:  Just as Matthew was pulling away for the second time, a sports car pulls up and its driver (whom I'll affectionately call Speed Racer!) asks, “You two need a lift?” Another coincidence?
   Let's just say we made up for any time we'd lost, arriving in Geneva by nightfall. The whole way there – and still today, actually – I wondered what it was, exactly, that made Matthew take the chance that we’d still be there. And then I imagine a world in which there are more people like Matthew, and I smile. 

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