82: A Tankful of Hope

82: A Tankful of Hope

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness

A Tankful of Hope

Kindness is gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us.

~Henri-Frédéric Amiel

It was 1990, and I had just graduated from college. It wasn’t the graduation of which greeting cards are made, though, full of excitement, smiles, caps in the air and hope for the future. Instead it involved having a nervous breakdown two weeks before I was scheduled to begin my student teaching, crying in my faculty advisor’s office and telling him that I didn’t want to teach, I just wanted to be done, and could I please drop the education aspect of my degree and be finished immediately?

I wonder if he knew as deeply as I did that I was never meant to be a teacher, and if that is why he didn’t spend more time trying to talk me out of such a rash decision. After all, I was literally two months away from the career for which I had just spent the past four years preparing.

When all was settled with the billing and financial aid offices I found myself with a few hundred dollars to my name, a 1985 Dodge Omni, and not much else in the way of worldly possessions. I rented a room from the friend of a friend, slept on a mattress on the floor, and stored my clothing in a blue cardboard storage box with drawers. I very quickly discovered that having a degree in English was not very useful in the job market. I circled ads and sent out résumés, netting only the occasional interview, most of which ended with either the words “Overqualified” or “Not enough experience.” No, this was not a greeting-card graduation scenario at all.

My savings trickled slowly away, spent on rent, gas for my car, and the basic necessities. By December I had reached the point of crisis. After paying rent I was down to the last seven dollars in my bank account. But I finally found at least temporary success in my job search when I walked into the chain bookstore at a local mall and walked out with a job as a seasonal employee. Oh, how I stretched those last seven dollars over the next few weeks, living off of saltines and tuna. I watched the gas gauge on my little gray Dodge dipping lower and lower toward empty as I waited for that first paycheck to come in.

It was a cold and gray day barely a week before Christmas when my paycheck finally arrived. When my shift at the bookstore ended I trudged out to the edge of the mall parking lot. First on my list, stop at the gas station to put gas in the car. Second, deposit paycheck. I pulled out of the parking lot and onto the loop road surrounding the mall. And there, at the very first stop sign, I ran out of gas.

I don’t know how many irritated drivers pulled out to go around me as I sat there. I’m sure there were quite a few. It was, after all, Christmas at the mall. But there I sat, tears slowly rolling down my cheeks, having no idea what to do. In a season that celebrates family, friends, and the comforts of home, I felt alone and unprepared.

And then… a knock on the window. “Are you all right?” the well-dressed woman asked. “Can I help with anything? I wasn’t going to stop, but I thought I saw tears.”

I don’t remember all the details of what happened next. Somehow we got my car moved off the loop road and back into a parking space. Then she invited me into her station wagon, and drove me the few minutes to the nearest gas station. Along the way she talked to me, listened to me tell about being on my own, experiencing my first Christmas away from home, my worries and my hopes. She filled a gas can, paid for it, and drove me back to my car.

She wouldn’t accept anything for her help; she just smiled and said “Do something for someone else some day when you are able.” And I’ve tried. I’ve tried to live my life with eyes wide open for the tears around me. I won’t say that I’ve done anything spectacular for anyone; I doubt I’ve changed any lives. But then, I doubt she would think that she had, either. But she did. She planted a seed of hope when I most desperately needed it.

~Loretta Tschetter

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