Here’s the situation: You’re stuck on the side of a fairly remote road in the nation’s Northwest and one of your tires has blown out. You’ve got a spare but no jack, and even though you managed to mount a handmade sign with a basic plea–NEED A JACK–car after car, truck after truck passes you by. You’ve been waiting for someone to stop for about three hours. Now, what do you do?
If you’re like Justin Horner, you’re ready to give up and start hitch-hiking. But, as he told the real-life story in The New York Times Magazine a year or so ago, just as he was about to call it quits a van pulled over and the driver climbed out. He quickly sized up the situation and indicated he could help.
The man spoke no English, but his daughter did. Emerging from the van, she talked briefly to her father and then explained to Horner that their jack was too small for his car, but with a little ingenuity could probably do the job. And so, with the proper bracing, it did–until Horner, starting to take the wheel off, broke the tire iron, snapping its head clean off. That might have been an insurmountable problem, but not for the Good Samaritan motorist. He asked his wife to drive back to the nearest town, where she bought a new tire iron. She returned in 15 minutes and the job was quickly done.
Both Horner and his Good Samaritan were covered with dirt and sweat, and the man’s wife produced a water jug they used to clean up. Horner thanked them profusely. When the man politely refused Horner’s twenty-dollar bill, Horner pressed it into the hand of his wife. He asked the young girl where they lived, thinking he would send them a gift. She explained that their home was in Mexico, and that they were in Oregon for a few weeks to pick cherries. Afterward they would pick peaches, and then head back home.
Horner was amazed. “This family,” he wrote, “undoubtedly poorer than just about everyone else on that stretch of highway, working on a seasonal basis where time is money, took a couple of hours out of their day to help a strange guy on the side of the road while people in tow trucks were just passing him by.”
More surprises were to come. The girl asked Horner if he’d had lunch, and when he said no she gave him a foil-wrapped tamale. Dumbfounded, he uttered a few words of thanks, only to be taken aback once more. When he unwrapped the foil, there was the twenty-dollar bill. Horner ran to the driver, about to pull away. He pleaded with him to take the money, but the man only smiled and shook his head. With great concentration, he said in English, “Today you, tomorrow me.”
How beautiful. I thought at once of one of our new Christopher News Notes, on gratitude, and the words of our writer: “In the midst of abject poverty, you can often find incredible generosity, unceasing gratitude, and inspiring faith.”
One day on a lonely highway in Oregon, just as he was about to give up, Justin Horner realized how true those words were. That was the day he saw them come to life.