Sunday, November 15, 2020

We Never Know

Roland at the bus station before we said goodbye

Six hours is way too long. I hate long drives, and even more than the drive, I hate making it longer by stopping.

“I need to go to the bathroom.”

“You can hold it.” I call back.

“I’m hungry.”

“There are plenty of old cheerios and fries jammed in those seats back there.”

“Is that the gas light?”

“No...maybe...we can make it.”

So it was a surprise when the sudden desire to pull over for the man who looked like a vagrant walking along the highway came over me. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised; Anyone who reads my blog knows I don’t mind meeting new people under the strangest of circumstances, but the problem with people on the highway is a problem that fits best in a jr. high math class:

If a van is traveling the highway at 75 mph and passes a vagrant walking at 2 mph how long does the driver have to notice the vagrant and decide to pull over before he is so far down the road that the driver feels it’s too late?

That is exactly what has happened to me many times. I flinch and the slightest hesitancy at 75 mph makes it too late (probably not really but that is how I feel, which makes me hesitate again and then it's really too late; well, probably not really but that is how I feel, which makes me hesitate again and then it’s really really too late. Well, probably not really but that is how...you get the idea.)

And what causes us to flinch? Many things: We have all heard of stories of people getting picked up and then them finding bodies on the side of the road a short time later. In addition, at this time we were in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. Our leadership had instructed us to avoid one another; what better reason is there than that? And of course, number three, I don’t want to get involved (I wrote on this earlier, so reference that here.) And don’t get me wrong, your safety is a valid reason to debate, but I can attest that I felt a real clear impression to pick him up.

The difference this time was I didn’t hesitate. It likely helped that I had recently gone through a similar situation and Jeanine had been nothing but supportive (she really is amazing). I quickly followed the impression and pulled off the road only 100 or so feet in front of the traveler, which, if you are still following the math problem, means I have lightning fast reflexes.

A short, skinny man carrying a small plastic bag and a longboard got in the front seat. We were traveling, so our front seat was covered with snacks, garbage, diaper bag, etc. We pushed what we could to the side and tried to pass the longboard back so he could jam in.

“Thanks for picking me up. I can give you money for gas,” He offers as he gets situated.

“That’s okay. What’s your name?”

“Ronald.”

“Where you off to?”

“Las Vegas.” His voice was soft and had a sort of accent, and the two made him very hard to understand.

“We can take you to St. George, but you will have to get the rest of the way from there. Why are you going to Las Vegas?”

“I live there. Is it far?”

“Las Vegas?” He nods. “It’s still at least a three hour drive.”

He looks perplexed. “That’s far. But you can’t take me there?”

“No, we are only going to St. George.”

“Okay, I’ll walk from St. George.”

“That’s a long walk. I’m not sure you want to do that.”

He looks concerned, as if to say, ‘what other choice do I have?’ but just says “I mean I will get there tonight?”

“Not if you walk you won’t.”

We are rolling down the road by this point and we offer him something to eat and a water. He graciously takes both. Finishes the whole water quickly, we offer him another, he again finishes quickly, so we offer another, again with the same result. It’s clear he is very thirsty and has nothing to eat or drink in sometime. “How long have you been walking?”

“About 2 hours. You sure I couldn’t get a bike or something in St. George, so I could ride it to Vegas”

“That would still be a long ride. What are you doing in Utah?”

“They drove me up last night to help them move a big chair, but then I lost my friend at the gas station. Could you get me close to Vegas?”

“I’m sorry I need to stop in St. George. So, you like to longboard?”

“No. You can have that. I don’t know how to use it. I just found it on the side of the road.” He goes on to show me what was in the little bag he was carrying, other things he had found on the side of the road. An old political flyer, a paper license plate, a metal hunk of a broken car.

As we spoke a picture of what was going on began to become clear. This was not a homeless vagrant as we had guessed. While he was hard to understand, the more I learned the more I realized this was an adult, who was very much a child. He lived in a group home, didn’t know his phone number, could tell us the basic location but not the address. And no matter what I said I could tell that deep down all he could think about was how could he get home tonight.

It was like you losing your 8 year old at the gas station, them not knowing what to do and then they start walking home, when they are 300 miles away. Why didn’t people stop and help him, after all if you saw a young child in need walking along the highway wouldn’t you stop? But he didn’t ask, and he didn’t look like an 8 year old. He looked like a vagrant, someone who knew what they were doing walking down a highway, if such a thing exists.

We were lucky. The Salt Lake express was running from St. George to Las Vegas, we got him a ticket and made sure he got on the bus. The bus line was super helpful and let him stay with them until our amazingly generous friend, Jason Segedy, (who was willing to pick up a total stranger at midnight at the drop of a hat) picked him up and took him back to his group home.

I wonder what would have happened to our friend Ronald had we not picked him up. It was hot, very hot, he had no water, no food, night was coming. Even picking him up, it took us a lot of conversation, hard to understand conversation, to realize what he really needed and that giving him a ride part way and then dropping him off would likely just put him back into the same situation. I hope that if we had missed him that someone else would have picked him up. That they would have taken the time to figure out what was going on and what he really needed. But if you had been the car behind me would you have stopped?

Now I don’t doubt that if you would have known the situation, essentially a child, hundreds of miles from his home, lost and just hoping to get back, that you would have acted. But that’s it, we never know. We need to make split second decisions when traveling at the breakneck pace that society sets for us, whether to stop and put our own lives on hold to help others, or to stay in the fast lane. And if we don’t watch, listen, and be prepared to set aside our priorities we will leave Ronald and so many others like him lost on the side of the road.



Saturday, November 7, 2020

The Rain Circle - The other view point.

 

The Rain Circle - The other view point.

While walking up in the high parts of Puno, me and my mission companion (I was serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) got into sharing stories from different parts of our lives. One story that really became a focal point for me was the story he told me about the “rain circle”.

As a young child his mother had warned him about rain circles, rain circles you see are rainbows but rather than the arch shape you typically see with rainbows, rain circles form a perfect circle. The rain circle will typically form around the sun. However once spotted, they then will fall down and encircle the viewer, though this may seem like a beautiful and serendipitous encounter it has a most heinous outcome. The viewer once encircled will encounter death. You can always tell when someone has been killed by a rain circle because they will have a certain coloration in their skin, just a little remnant left behind by the rain circle. There is however one way to protect yourself from a rain circle. Once the viewer has spotted the rain circle they must pee a circle around themselves and stay within confines of the circle until the rain circle has passed. The pee circle you see protects you from the rain circle. Treding even a foot beyond the pee circle while in the presence of a rain circle could mean eminent death.

My companion went on to state that once he and his friend were once walking out in the countryside when they spotted the rain circle. They of course were well aware of the legend so naturally they peed out a circle and stayed safely inside until the rain circle had passed.

I walked on and was waiting for some kind of punch line to the story, but looked over at my companion and realized he wasn’t telling a joke, he was serious. I then started to giggle. He turned and looked hurt by my laughing and stated, “What is so funny”. I then said, with much amusement, “Not only is there no such thing as a rain circle, but even if it did exist which it doesn’t, it most certainly wouldn’t kill you!” I laughed and I laughed and I laughed some more, to which my mission companion shot back at me, “My mother wouldn’t lie to me about that kind of thing”. I laughed some more and I protested at the ridiculousness of his notion and he protested back. It wasn’t long before it was clear we were in two different camps when it came to rain circles and there simply would be no compromise. I wiped my tears away, my laugh is ridiculously large and breathy, and we both decided to leave the issue behind us.

Though we didn’t agree on rain circles we grew to be close friends, we shared many a laugh together, but as fate would have it after 6 weeks he was summoned to go serve on an Island out in the middle of Lake Titicaca. I stayed in my area with a new Elder that was assigned to work with me. A few days after he arrived we were walking through the same remote part of town up in the highlands where my old companion had first told me the story of the rain circle; when my new companion blurted “Hey look, a rain circle”. I in awe said “What?” Sure enough I looked up to see none other than a rainbow but in a perfectly formed circle.

This served as a lesson for me, I simply don’t know everything there is to know. “The world is wide” I tell myself. If I hear something that is beyond crazy I try to think, I don’t know everything and maybe there is truth to this. A few weeks after spotting the rain circle, I was told of the story about Kharisiri; a person who steals fat from people for evil purposes. Once the fat has been taken, usually without the victim knowing, it will leave the victim feeling sick and no western medicine can help. The only cure is to walk with a lamb to a holy spot in the mountains, which can only be found by someone who has made the journey before. Once there you have to then sacrifice the lamb and perform a ritual and then start the journey home. If you make it back successfully you, or the loved one you made the journey for, will be cured. Those who don’t do this, will have a slow, gradual but painful death.

When I heard this story I so wanted to say “Wow there are people stealing fat from people! People would pay good money for that in America, and to think they do it free of charge here.” But I thought back to the rain circle and kept an open mind and said instead: “Wow I had no idea that happened.” The teller then went on to tell me about their personal story, an encounter with a Kharisiri, which was truly a captivating story and one I never would have heard if I would have gone with my original gut comment.

Recently, I have thought back to the story of the rain circle. Our nation seems unrecognizably divided, the two sides thinking that the other side is utterly incomprehensible. Each side dehumanizes the other. The story of the rain circle however reminds me to accept the lived experiences of others. I often think that if I were to have lived the life that the other person had lived, that I would probably see the logic in their point of view. I still think disagreements are healthy but all sides can benefit from a bit of humility and an ounce of compassion. For there may come a day where you too might look up and say, “O gosh there is a rain circle”.

Lastly you might be wondering what I did when I saw the rain circle? Well, naturally I did as anyone would do when encountered with a rain circle, well anyone who survives to tell the tale that is.