A Pothole Story

A few years ago, I heard a strange noise while I was stopped at a stoplight. Across the busy intersection, a man in a wheelchair was bellowing for help. One of his rear wheels was stuck in a large pothole at the edge of a restaurant driveway–right at the place where it met the road.

I am not a large, muscular person. I’m a small, somewhat weak person. The only other human in the car with me was my two-year-old daughter. “Where we going?” she asked as I turned left and pulled into the restaurant driveway. “We’re going to help this man,” I told her. I parked safely away from the street and stepped out to do what I could. It wasn’t easy. His physical disabilities made it impossible for him to speak clearly, so I couldn’t quite understand what he thought I should do. I pushed for a while. Then I pulled. He revved the motor on his wheelchair. Finally, we managed to get the chair out of the hole. He rolled over my foot as he sped away. Those chairs are fast.

I was feeling pretty good as I returned to my car. I had helped someone. Really helped them! I mean, getting someone out of a hole–that is the essence of helpful! And, to top it off, I felt I had set a good example for my daughter. I smiled at her. “We did it!” I said. She pointed at the other cars passing by in the busy intersection. “They had to go to a meeting,” she said.

Cars had been rushing past the entire time I was working to get the man out of his dangerous pothole, and my daughter’s mind had been searching for a reason. They had to go to a meeting was what she came up with. Those other people couldn’t help. They had to be somewhere. My daughter was not impressed with the fact that I had helped the man. She was disturbed that we were the only ones who did.

I believe that this core of goodness exists in everyone. My two-year-old understood the concept and importance of helping. This is the human essence that we try to reach when we make art. It’s deep. It’s innate. Cultures and religions all over the world have similar values and ethical codes: Don’t kill, don’t steal, help others. But the complexities of life can twist our values, and persuade us that we don’t really have time to stop to help a man out of a hole. That’s why we need art and stories–to remind us of what is important, and to help us forgive ourselves when we don’t quite manage to live up to our ideals.

The truth is, I considered not stopping for the man stuck in the hole. I thought, “I have a baby in the car. I’m weak. This is weird. Let someone else do it.” On another day, I might have done the same thing. But I did stop to help, and the feeling of joy it gave me lasted for days. The people who didn’t stop missed out. “Yes, sweetie,” I told my daughter. “They had a meeting. But we had time, and we got to help.”

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