“Oh no, LORD, don’t let it break down now,” I moaned as the car sputtered on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Please, help me get to the next exit.”
I’d been visiting my sons at college and was an hour from home when my car began losing power. When I reached the tollbooth, the engine stopped.
Two friendly turnpike employees pushed my car to the side parking lot. As I waited for road service, the small, bleak turnpike office offered little comfort. In the same room, there were two African-American women. They also appeared distressed. Soon, I noticed that while the turnpike staff treated me kindly, they rolled their eyes as if annoyed by the presence of the black women.
I turned to the girls and asked, “Did your car break down too?”
They explained. “We left Camden this morning to visit relatives in North Jersey, but we had trouble reading the map and somehow we ended up in Pennsylvania.”
They drove most of the day, spent their money on lunch, and gas. As night fell, they found themselves on the turnpike—out of gas and money.
“What are you going to do? I worried, “How will you get home?”
“A couple hours ago we called our cousin in New Jersey, and he’s supposed to bring us money.”
In my typical take-charge manner, I suggested they call again (this was before we all carried cell phones.) Sheepishly, one of the women asked the turnpike official if she could make another collect call.
What I witnessed was unmistakable!
The employee’s response to her request was different from when I asked to make a phone call. The worker curtly handed the woman the phone and instructed her to, “Make it quick.”
As a white woman, I knew I would never share the women’s predicament. I could never understand their feelings. Like watching the school bully pick on the smallest girl in class, I stood immobilized as the staff mistreated the stranded Jersey girls. Hopelessness engulfed her round face when she reached her cousin and learned he had not yet left Jersey.
Was this kind of non-response typical of what these women had come to expect? Had years of stabbing remarks and offhanded gestures crushed their self-esteem?
I told myself, You think you’re in a bad situation, Diane. You may be alone, but people treat you with respect. You know how to read a map. You have the benefit of a towing service.
The events of that night revealed not everyone has that same level of assurance.
As individuals and as a society, how long will we speak of fairness but continue to demean others and thereby degrade ourselves?
In a spirit of meditation, I continued. Tonight’s misfortune has nothing to do with me, does it, LORD? Tonight is a lesson–a reminder of ongoing racial injustice and inequality.
Tears of understanding swelled. I knew what I had to do. I would follow my Father God’s example and come to the aid of His two daughters. My Jersey sisters in Christ.
My mind shifted into overdrive. What little cash I have will cover the tip for the tow-truck driver. But I do have money in my Sunday offering envelope right here in my purse. I opened my bag, and handed my weekly church envelope to the women.
Next, I grabbed a complimentary map from the office wall rack, showed the women where we were, and highlighted the route to New Jersey. “If my car were operational, I would drive to Camden and you could follow me.”
ThenI thought, If my car didn’t overheat, our paths would have never crossed.
The tow truck arrived and as we drove into the cold, lonely night, I wondered if the women waited for their cousin to guide them home or if they journeyed on their own. But this was not about me. It was about my response to God’s plan and how I would treat my sisters from New Jersey.
The events literally brought me to a screeching halt and showed me others were hurting too. Car trouble forced me to witness how two weary African-American women acted in their distress, and how others, including myself, reacted to their plight.
Now when I pray against my own bigotry and shortcomings, I pray others will hear God’s message of unity. My misfortune helped me see the need for Christ-like compassion toward all of God’s children—minorities, the disabled, and those living with addictions.
“I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak . . .” (Ezekiel 34:16).
The material in this article condensed from Diane Vernitsky Jellen’s book, Heaven Heals a Codependent’s Heart, Part Four: The Jersey Girls.