Sometimes I wonder how far I’m willing you go for a friend. One Saturday afternoon I got my answer after receiving back to back phone messages. One was a text from an old college friend in Detroit. In his message he stated his son Daniel (whom I’d never met) got stopped by police near Battle Creek on his way back to Chicago, and asked me to call him. The other message was a voicemail from Daniel himself, who said he was at the police station, that his car had been impounded, and needed help. I left the house immediately. What happened next unsettled me.
On the way to the station, my mind became clouded by what help meant. I started feeling uncomfortable. In the years since graduating college, I only saw my friend a few times in the fall at Michigan State football tailgates, and I didn’t know his young adult son at all. What were my friend’s expectations about what I should/could do? What kind of person was Daniel? Why was he stopped and his car impounded?
I began calculating the potential cost to me for this ‘rescue’ mission – in terms of both money and reputation. Should I post his bail and pay the impound fee to get him back home? Then there was the unknown ‘price’ of getting involved, not to mention all the time it might take.
Then I remembered a few things: a person I call friend asked for help; the help was for his son. I have a son too. This young man was alone, in a strange place, in trouble, and I had the ability to help. Things became clear again. I stopped speculating, decided to get the facts and then work the problem. And I would do whatever I could to help. But things took a turn when I arrived.
Daniel was gone. He had taken a taxi to an impound yard in nearby Marshall. About 15 minutes later I met him there for the first time. There I learned he was not the vehicle’s registered owner, so Daniel could not get the car back. However, with a bit of coaxing and some paperwork that included receiving a faxed letter from the car’s owner, we were allowed to retrieve Daniel’s book bag, which he was desperate for since it contained an important paper that was due the next day in class.
I also learned Daniel was a second year law student. He had not been arrested. The vehicle had been impounded for unpaid tickets and not contraband, as I dreaded. Why he was pulled over in the first place remained fuzzy; he said the deputy told him he was driving too long in the fast lane and that his brake lights were going on and off, or something like that.
Because of the red tape involved in retrieving his book bag, I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon with Daniel. And before he departed by bus to Chicago, we enjoyed talking across a range of topics. Helping Daniel was one of my most enriching experiences this year and it didn’t cost me a dime. (Well, the gas to Marshall and bill for lunch.)
The unsettling part about that day was my second-guessing the decision to help my friend. Although it had been brief, why had I let doubt creep into my mind about helping my friend? Was it merely a matter of me being on guard against people using you or something else? What would you have done?