“Are you safe?”
Those were the first words that the person on the other end of the phone asked me Thanksgiving night. My insurance company’s roadside assistance hotline started the call not with questions verifying who I was or whether my policy was up to date, but if I was okay.
“Yes,” I said. And I was.
Though my heart was racing and my mind was going a thousand thoughts a second, I was safe. We were safe. On the side of the road in Newburgh, just off the highway, I’d managed — with support and help from my boyfriend — to maneuver my failing car off the highway and to a safe spot beside the road even as all the power systems — from the headlights and dashboard to the power steering — failed.
It’s amazing how three little words placed at the start of a conversation can be so reassuring and calming. I was panicked — I needed to pick up my children. I needed my car to work. I needed not to be on the side of the road.
But I was safe.
As we waited there for the kindly tow truck driver who assured me he’d be there soon, other cars stopped to ensure we were all right, some turning off the highway in our direction just to check on us. The very thought of this kindness brings tears to my eyes. It’s just so nice.
People who didn’t know us stopped to try to help.
We were safe.
That was the second time on Thanksgiving this year that something revived my faith in humans and humanity. These past few weeks, months, year have been so fraught with discord and disagreement as we’ve watched an ugly political season unfold. But on Thanksgiving, strangers stopped to help.
And not just on the side of the road in Newburgh either.
Early on Thursday, my boyfriend learned that his estranged father is now homeless in New York. Distraught, he asked for help on Facebook — for food or a blanket for his father. Something, anything, to help the terrible situation he’s in.
“There is a man at St. Monica’s Church on E 79th currently, wearing a blue coat and black hat. He is homeless and HIV positive. His name is Victor and he is my father,” he wrote.
People responded in spades. Complete strangers who are friends of friends and acquaintances took time to seek him out.
“Everybody’s looking for Victor,” someone told another who’d sought him out.
That night, Victor had food in his belly, a blanket to keep him warm and a change of clothes for the next day. For many reasons — human nature is complicated — he might not have a roof over his head again unless he chooses to, but that cold night on the streets of the city where I grew up, he knew love.
As we enter this season of joy and giving, remember that kindness matters. Love exists. We can be decent to each other, and it makes the world so much brighter.
I can’t help but think of the words of the late Dawn Hochsprung, who was my children’s principal at Sandy Hook School four years ago: “Be nice to each other. It’s really all that matters.” Dawn died protecting her students on Dec. 14, 2012, but her words have stuck with me — they are so true.
In the world where there’s so much unrest, we have a choice. We can put aside the things that we disagree on. We can go on, and be kind to each other. And we should. Really, it’s all that matters.
This week’s recipe is meant for sharing. It’s the kind of recipe you make for coworkers or family gatherings or that cookie swap. It’s also the kind of recipe that’s perfect for making and dropping off to the people who bring love, light and kindness into our lives — like the folks who work in school offices, who answer the oncologist’s phone, those who don heavy suits and run into fires.
This is something to share with those who help.
And when we slow down and look at the world around us, one thing is apparent: There are plenty of people who do, and will, help
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
- 3 tbsp butter
- ½ cup milk
- ⅔ cup peanut butter (chunky or creamy)
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1½ cup quick rolled oats
- In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, cocoa powder, butter and milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and then boil for 1 minute. Stir in the peanut butter until combined.
- Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract and oats.
- Line a baking sheet or cutting board with waxed paper. Drop balls of dough by the teaspoonful onto the waxed paper. Let cool completely. Enjoy.