Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas Story From Jacksonville Florida

My best Christmas gift may have already arrived.

As often happens with a treasured present, it came as a surprise. A surprise in the middle of a traffic jam at Loretto Road and San Jose Boulevard.
Like other commuters at the end of a recent workday, I was weary, rushed and thinking of my overwhelmingly long "to-do" list while driving home. I certainly didn't feel festive when a city bus stopped a short distance in front of me. Only two cars separated my vehicle from the groaning one that lumbered to a halt so passengers could board.

Drivers who saw the traffic situation in time slowed down and swerved into the middle of three lanes in order to zoom past the yellow roadblock. A few disgruntled drivers who couldn't get by honked their horns in frustration. I understood their feelings, but knowing I was hopelessly sandwiched in kept me silent and staring straight ahead.

When the passengers boarded the bus, I expected the vehicle to ooze away. It did not.

Suddenly I spotted the reason why. A man in a wheelchair was rolling down the sidewalk to the back of the bus. The bus driver lowered the hydraulic-operated ramp and waited for the remaining passenger to board.

I watched as the would-be rider backed his wheelchair to the ramp and tried to get up on it. However, because of the incline of the sidewalk, the man kept rolling forward.

"Should I get out and help?" I wondered. "Would the man be offended? Would traffic move before I could return to my vehicle? What would other drivers think?"

While those thoughts swept over me, the bus driver appeared in front of the man. Though she tried with all her might to assist him, the struggling duo still couldn't get the man's wheelchair onto the metal ramp.

As my self-focused thoughts continued to immobilize me, I saw a young man coming up the sidewalk on a bicycle.

The kid's headset, baggy pants, rumpled T-shirt and rickety 10-speed made me wonder what he'd do. In a pre-judgmental snap, I thought he might even mug the man.

Wrong. As soon as the cyclist saw the situation, he slammed on the brakes. He dumped his bike and within seconds had the man and his wheelchair on the bus. The kid then picked up his bicycle and rode away, never stopping to look around at who might be watching. He didn't even remove his earphones. The gusty good Samaritan simply saw a need and met it.

Drivers close to the scene must have observed what I saw as well, because in an instant the impatient honking halted. A pocket of peace permeated the busy thoroughfare and a holy hush seemed to hover as I drove home.

What a perfect present. In a crowded, chaotic instant, the gentleness of a young man brought calm. I hope the kid enjoys a blessed Christmas. He certainly helped me remember the reason for this festive season.