My parents taught me by example to offer assistance whenever someone needed it and we were able to give it. They also taught me that doing good should be its own reward and not to expect (or sometimes accept) any other type. I learned to hold doors, carry groceries, and help people move. I now find great joy in helping others. Most of the time, people are appreciative and express some type of thanks when I offer to help. Most of the time.
Occasionally, there are those who refuse assistance based on some misguided belief about people who offer assistance. Some men have acted as if I made affront to their manhood by suggesting they needed help and I’ve had more than one woman eye me suspiciously as I approached to ask if they needed anything (I’m certainly not imposing, so maybe it’s just that I’m male).
One frigid morning I noticed an elderly lady laboring to open her car door at the gas station. I walked over, careful to stand back a bit so I wouldn’t frighten her.
“Ma’am, would you like me to pump your gas for you so you don’t have to get in the cold?”
“Who are you? Do you work here?”
“No, ma’am, I don’t. I just thought you might like to stay in the car.”
“Back off! I have mace!” Actually, she didn’t. But she did have a can of pepper spray affixed to her key chain that she aimed at me. I quickly held up my hands and backed away.
“I just wanted to help, ma’am, but I certainly don’t have to.” I went back to remove the gas nozzle from my truck.
“Why aren’t you leaving?” she asked as she brandished her pepper spray, “I know how to use this!” I believed her.
“I’m just finishing up with my truck. The one right her behind you.” She continued to glare at me while I waited for my receipt. She muttered under her breath until I got in my truck and left. I should have known better because I have terrible luck at that particular gas station.
Years earlier, my mom and I pulled into the turn lane behind a stalled truck. The driver was a woman I knew vaguely from school (she was a teacher there). Smoke billowed from under the hood and a few wisps came from inside the cab as well. We got out of our car as another pulled in behind us. The woman was borderline hysterical.
“It just stopped and started smoking. I have no idea why or what’s wrong with it.”
“I’ll take a look.” I said. I walked over to the trucked as my mom tried to console her. I know next to nothing about cars, but as it turned out, I didn’t need to. I took one look under the hood, then under the dash inside the truck to confirm my diagnosis.
“I know what’s wrong,” I said as I ran quickly back to where the three of them (my mom, the woman, and the man from the other car) stood.
“Is it bad?” the man asked.
“It’s on fire.” They women stared, but the man quickly ran across the street to a gas station. He returned a moment later with a fire extinguisher that failed to live up to its name and intended use.
A fire truck arrived a short time later to actually extinguish the flames. The woman accepted a ride home from us, so we salvaged her groceries from the back of her water-logged truck before they towed it away. ONce we got to her house, I offered to help carry the groceries in.
“Um, okay,” she said. She sounded unsure about it. She grabbed one bag and headed onto her porch. I grabbed the remaining two and followed. She opened the door and I was about to follow we she spun around and said, “No, not in the house! I don’t want you in my house. Just put them on the porch.”
“Okay,” I said. I resisted the urge to explain that I was not an axe murderer and simply put the bags down and headed back.
Another instance happened in the parking lot of a certain large retailer. After I parked, I noticed a woman with two shopping carts working to get everything loaded in her car. I was in my thirties and I guessed her to be forty-ish so I tried not to look smarmy as I walked over to her car.
“Would you like some help loading all this up?” I specifically avoided calling her “ma’am” in case it offended her (that was a lesson I learned the hard way).
“What? Don’t come any closer! I have pepper spray!” She rummaged in her purse and I stood respectfully in place.
She was still looking for it so I asked, “Would you like me to wait until you find it?”
“That’s not funny.” She stopped searching. “I have it right her. I can pull it out in an instant if you do anything funny.”
“I just want to help out, but I’ll leave if you prefer.”
“You can help I guess, but just know that I’m watching you.”
I loaded up what remained in her carts. She kept watch with her hand in her purse the entire time. I moved the carts to the return, then tipped an imaginary cap to her.
“Have a good day, ma’am.” She flinched at the word. She made sure not to turn her back to me as I walked away to enter the store. I chuckled to myself and wondered if she really did have pepper spray.
Of course, it’s not just women who act strangely when I offer assistance. Once, my dad and I were picking up supplies at a home improvement store (the one with an all orange color scheme). We were ready to leave when I noticed an older man standing near his own truck. He waited beside a large cart loaded with lumber and sheets of plywood. I told Dad I’d be right back.
I walked over and asked if he needed help loading his truck.
“It’s about time!” He was very gruff and, um, unpleasant, but he accepted my help. He kept up a running monologue as we worked.
“I can’t believe it took so long. I’ve been waiting too long. I don’t understand why you didn’t come out here sooner.” I was annoyed by his diatribe, but continued helping anyway.
When we finished. He looked right at me and said, “Well, thanks for nothing. It took you too long for me to appreciate it.”
I was confused, but decided it wasn’t worth it and just said, “Well, you’re welcome anyway. Sorry to have disappointed you, a complete stranger I tried to help.” Okay, so maybe it was a little worth it.
I opened the door to my truck. He suddenly called back to me, “Wait a minute. You don’t work here?” I thought the shirt with torn off sleeves, paint splattered ripped shorts, and complete lack of an orange apron was a dead giveaway. Apparently not.
“No, sir, I don’t. I’m just a random guy who offered to help.”
“Oh, that changes everything. Thank you!” Actually it didn’t.
At least in all those situations I could somewhat understand where the other came from. I can see how an elderly woman would be suspicious of a man who approached her at the gas station or a woman not wanting me to enter her house. There may be a reason the woman was so paranoid in the parking lot (and I did kind of startle her). I even understand that the man I helped was kind of a jerk. One thing I have never understood is a woman who took great affront when I held a door for her.
I was in my twenties and walking in to my doctor’s office for a check up. One of those prescription drug sales reps walked a few feet behind be with her little rolling cart. As is my habit, I waited and held the door as she approached. I usually get a friendly smile, a polite “thank you,” or having a warm pat. She looked at me with complete and utter contempt.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Scorn dripped from her.
“Uh, I’m holding the door for you.”
“Why?” I was not used to this question.
“Because I usually hold doors for people.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I’ll tell you what I think. I think you look at me like some frail pathetic woman who can’t handle opening the door on my own so you have to show your strength by opening the big heavy door for the silly little girl. Well, let me tell you something, Mister Man, I am not some weakling who cries at the drop of a hat. I’ve made my own way and done everything for myself and I don’t need your help!”
I wasn’t thinking any of that at all. I stood awkwardly as I held the door. She remained in place.
“Um, do you want me to let the door close?”
“Oh, you would just love to close the door on me wouldn’t you?”
“No, I really just want to do whatever will make you least mad right now.”
“Typical, you have no idea how to react to a strong and powerful woman.” Actually, I had no idea how to react to a completely mental woman. She glared a moment and said, “Even though I don’t need it.” She then held her chin high as she strode through the doorway.
I followed inside and stood in line at the desk behind her. She addressed the woman behind the desk but clearly talked about me.
“The nerve! Some people are just plain rude.”
“I’m aware,” said the woman behind the counter, “but I guess we have to put up with you anyway.” The sales rep huffed. I just smiled.