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When Should You Help?

March 21, 2020

Painting of bygone days in rural Rockingham County, by David Huyard.

Another Way for week of March 20, 2020

When Should You Help?

I had been lost—bunches of times—on the very back roads we now live on—when my children were younger. They had friends who lived on back roads and when they were invited for birthday parties or overnights and the best navigation help we had at that time—no computer help at all—were directions usually given over the phone, well, the result was that I often ended up frustrated, anxious, and even wailing. I did my best to write out the directions, including watching for landmarks: if you come to a stop sign with a tree 30 feet off the road, you’ve gone too far. Really? How many crossroad descriptions does that match?

So, I had and have empathy for other lost folks. But of course, you’ve got to be careful. And wise.

Recently I was heading out to take my husband a vital piece of his chain saw at his friend’s wooded acreage. I noticed a woman in a car, with her emergency flashers on, at a crossroads. She looked about my age. What did she need? Mechanical help? Directions? She appeared to be looking down at her lap. But I knew my husband was waiting for his part. If she’s still there when I come back, I said to myself, (judging it would be no more than a five-minute errand), I would help her.

Didn’t she have a smart phone? Who ventures out to find a place without a phone or GPS these days? It looked like she was trying to call someone. Maybe help was on the way.

When I returned from completing my errand, she was still sitting there, but another woman, also similar in age to us both, was out on the road obviously trying to help her. I recognized the other woman, a neighbor who moved to this area about five years ago, who I knew through work connections and also a fellow blogger and Facebook friend. This made me feel safer in deciding to stop and help.

The “lost” woman said she was trying to find a new-to-her CPA who lived in a brick home for her tax appointment. She had some directions written on paper, but her phone was not working in our neighborhood. No surprise there.

Art by David Huyard.

The house was supposedly visible from a church not far down the road. I volunteered that I knew where that church was and she could follow me to the church and we’d see what we could see. So the other fellow blogger/Facebook friend—who I’m guessing was on her way to a dog training class—took that as a nod I could probably help better than she could.

But. When we got to that church, a house matching the description was not immediately visible. I plugged in the address she had on my phone. From my “Google Maps” it became obvious to me that the brick house was over across the hill and .3 miles away. Bingo. She also used my phone to call the CPA’s number. The woman was overjoyed and would be only a few minutes late to her appointment. She thanked me profusely before hurrying to the CPA’s house.

Would I have helped if the person lost would have been of a different race or language group than me? I hope so. I thought about our trip to Alaska last summer where we were told about the general practice that if it was below zero and there was a hitchhiker or someone needing help, they were obliged to stop and assist or else face a fine. I’ve been unable to document that it is a law, but the common understanding of locals is that you must help.

Second cousins at an impasse.

What if she had appeared drunk or unkempt or out of control? By what standards do we make quick judgments about whether it is safe to help? Time of day? Age of car? Is it safer just to call the police if you don’t know whether to help or not? I know that many have sat and waited an extended length of time when needing help and car after car passes you by. I think many of us assume that everyone has cell phone help at their fingertips, but we also know how those devices can fail us at just the wrong time.

Bottom line: be wise (I would not have stopped for a man) and maybe keep your distance from a car, or call for help from your own vehicle. I do know it is a great feeling to be of help when someone is in distress, and nice to still practice the Golden Rule.


What are your own safety rules of when you help or don’t?

How do you decide?

Your own stories?


Comment here or send to me at or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.


Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. You made a wise (and kind) decision about helping the woman. No, I wouldn’t have stopped for a man, unless my husband was also in the car.

    Thank you for giving me lots to think about this sunny, Saturday morn. Stay well, my friend!

  2. Yes, my husband often stops, and I’ve told him if he ever stops to help a woman, to make sure I or someone is with him!! 🙂

    Speaking of sunny, we had a gorgeous day yesterday and the day before, and now March is blowing back with a chill. Time to go make a cozy fire to go with my rising oatmeal bread. Thanks for checking in here.

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