Monday night I was driving back to the Quad Cities from the north. You may remember it was a little stormy that night. After significant delays and the opportunity to make some new friends who huddled with me in the restroom at a BP gas station, I headed south on U.S. Highway 61. There was rain and wind, but the drive was uneventful until I came to a spot just north of the exit for Scott County Park, about 20 miles north of Davenport.
There, all four lanes of traffic were stopped. We were stopped long enough for folks to get out of their cars and walk forward to see what the holdup was all about. The report I received from one gentleman when he passed my vehicle as he returned to his own was a downed power line. In total, we remained parked for an hour and 45 minutes while crews cleared the way.
Over time, I’ve gotten to know many people who work for utility companies, mostly as linemen. I thought of them right away and remembered how much greater the inconvenience was to those called away from their families that night to make the road safe for the rest of us. But that wasn’t the only example of the value of community I saw as we loitered on the highway.
The indefinite wait motivated some drivers to take their chances in the median so they could turn around and head north. It worked for the first few vehicles, but the ground was soft from heavy rain, and it wasn’t long before a mini-van got stuck. I heard the tires spinning and the engine revving, and when I looked back I could see a little smoke each time the driver decided to give it another go. Right away, however, my eyes caught something else. Two young men from a car in front of me running back to help. I could hear the instructions they gave to the driver for a few minutes as others joined them to push.
Moments passed without success, but then a truck driver entered my headlights carrying cables. Soon the van was linked to another vehicle and was slowly drawn back to the pavement. Before the operation was complete, I heard a cry, “Stand clear of the cable! If it snaps it will take your head off.” Then another voice through my own window: “Sir, could you pull up a few feet?” We had to make space for the van on the road again.
Witnessing strangers pitch in to help one another reminded me of something I had read earlier that same day – that many communities have lost or outsourced the “capacity to care.” The author explains, “What I once went to an uncle or neighbor for, I now pay a professional to do. What this produces is a hollow neighborhood that does not value coming together around troubles.”
That stranded driver was only getting help that night if it came from others who were stranded on the same stretch of highway at the same time and decided to jump in to do what they could do. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor and makes it clear that our neighbor is whoever is in front of us at any given moment. I’m so grateful for neighbors who are linemen, neighbors who carry cables in their trucks, and neighbors who aren’t afraid to get a little messy when others get stuck. I hope I can do a better job of remembering that we’re all on the same road, and we all have the power to help each other get where we’re going.
–Ryan Bailey, director of faith formation