When caring makes a difference

  • 04/04/2009 02:00
  • 04/04/2009 02:00
PANAMA. We’ve all heard the parable of the Good Samaritan? the man who helped a complete stranger when others turned a deaf ear and bli...

PANAMA. We’ve all heard the parable of the Good Samaritan? the man who helped a complete stranger when others turned a deaf ear and blind eye. What makes someone stretch out a caring hand when there is seemingly nothing to be gained? Is this an inherent trait that is within all of us? Or, is it learned through example? Or, is it such an inconceivable concept that some of us can never understand its benefit?

Regardless of the personal instinct or innate motive, that thoughtful experience has happened often to me in Panama.

Take, for example, a day not long ago when I left my office late and started walking the six long blocks to my hotel when a sudden thunder storm erupted catching me off guard and unprotected. Suddenly the dark night was even more foreboding as the heavy downpour turned visibility into a thick sheet of torrent water and the broken sidewalk a slick obstacle course.

With briefcase in one hand and a similar attaché in the other I ventured to the edge of Calle 50 and attempted to hail a cab. It was after 8:00 p.m. and the usual heavy traffic was reduced to a trickle with only the occasional glare of oncoming headlights to further block my vision. I knew the chance of actually getting a cab was nil, but I persevered despite the odds.

At that late hour most cab drivers were ending their day and heading home. The ones that were working the late shift had their cabs filled to capacity with luckier passengers. With stubborn optimism I still stretched a heavy briefcase toward the light traffic not knowing if oncoming vehicles were taxis or personal automobiles.

After long minutes turned into dripping frustration an approaching car changed lanes and veered toward me. With sudden heightened hopefulness I stepped over the curb to increase my chances of being seen. I smiled broadly thinking that it would also somehow send a subliminal message of gratefulness. However all was lost when the speeding driver took pleasure in aiming his vehicle toward the rushing stream of rainwater flowing down the avenue toward an already overflowing sewer.

Within a split moment I went from soaked to completely drenched as a surge of murky street water hit me like a Santa Catalina surfing wave. I couldn’t see the driver, but I could only imagine the satisfied grin on his face.

With no purpose left in attempting to stay dry, I stepped back onto the sidewalk and trudged toward the hotel still five blocks away. I hadn’t gone a twenty feet when another car swerved toward the edge of the sidewalk. Bracing myself for another thoughtless attack, I instead heard the sound of brakes and a beeping horn. I turned toward the then stopped late model German car as the passenger side window was lowered automatically.

“I saw what just happened to you,” a gentleman’s voice exclaimed as he leaned toward the open window. “Can I offer you a ride?”

With utter shock my smile returned and I quickly accepted his kind gesture. I soon discovered that the Good Samaritan was a highly respected Panamanian developer who has a number of new buildings under construction throughout the city.

Then, there was the owner of a barbershop in San Felipé who made a point of coming out of his shop to tell me that I was being watched by a number of unsavory street people and I should stop taking photographs and put my camera way.

And not to be forgotten was the time when I had lost my Cartier wristwatch that I received as a birthday present over twenty years ago, only to have it found by a hotel maid and returned to me on my following trip.

So, as I recall some of the many thoughtful Panamanians who have extended a helpful hand to me, I no longer question whether being a Good Samaritan is an inherent, learned or inconceivable concept. The answer is definitely in one’s own experiences – but the lesson learned is to ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’.

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