97: The Stranger’s Offer

97: The Stranger’s Offer

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

The Stranger’s Offer

We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.

~Cynthia Ozick

The day after my husband John and I were married on Saturday, August 2, 1980, we were in the emergency room of a Chicago hospital. We had been involved in a head-on collision on the Dan Ryan Expressway.

When the accident occurred, John had been driving us to our hotel at O’Hare Airport where we hoped to catch a flight the next morning to the Bahamas for our honeymoon. On a late Sunday afternoon, the multi-lane roadway was packed, presumably from people returning to the city after a weekend away.

One car tried unsuccessfully to merge onto the roadway. Unfortunately, there was not enough room, and it hit a car. This action caused a domino effect involving four cars. Our small two-door, closest to the median, felt the final impact, as a big black car was spun around into our lane.

When the crash happened, I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and hit my head on the windshield. (It was not a law then for passengers to wear a seatbelt.) Thankfully, John had worn his seatbelt and was unharmed.

An ambulance transported John and me, wearing a thick neck brace, to a hospital. Three hours later, after undergoing a series of tests to determine possible damage to my body, the doctors released me. I was thankful to not even have a headache.

However grateful John and I were for having our lives spared, the fact was that we were stranded. Our car had been towed to a repair shop. We were three hours from home and family. And we knew no one in the Windy City. John and I slumped in the stiff waiting-room chairs, exhausted from the wedding and the accident, and desperately trying to decide what we should do.

It was near midnight, and our plane left at 6:00 A.M. If we could get to the airport tonight, we could spend the night there and catch our flight the next morning. A nurse told us the bus lines were closed. “A taxi will charge $45,” she added. We gulped. That was more than a young farm couple could afford.

A man sitting across from us in the waiting room stood. “I’ll give you a ride to the airport,” he said. He looked to be in his sixties and wore a respectable-looking raincoat while leaning on a cane. He explained he was in the ER because his mother had had an episode with her blood pressure and needed to stay overnight. He was ready to leave.

Tired and shook up, John and I looked at each other. It seemed risky to get in a car with a stranger, but no other plan presented itself. We accepted the offer.

“I was in a car accident myself several months ago,” the stranger said, limping as he led us to the hospital parking lot. The limp, he said, was due to the accident. “I’ll always walk with a cane,” he added. He unlocked the doors to a modern, clean sedan, and we climbed in. The leather seats felt good, and I curled into the back seat, nearly oblivious to what was being said by the two men in the front seat.

The stranger continued talking to John as he drove us deftly through the night. He described his narrow escape from death and how he had had to be cut out of the wreckage. In the backseat, I had nearly nodded off when the stranger’s next words seeped into my consciousness. “I’m thankful to be alive,” he said.

Thirty minutes later, we arrived at the airport terminal. The stranger helped us retrieve our luggage from the trunk. Then he handed John a $10 bill. “Buy your new wife a good breakfast,” he said. Numbly, we thanked the stranger. Then he got back in his car and drove off into the night.

To this day, we have no clue as to his identity. But we know this man performed a miracle that night. What could have been a blight on our first days together after our wedding has become one of the best memories John and I share. The stranger helped us see that instead of feeling sorry for ourselves after the car accident and having to spend the second night of our marriage in the hospital and airport, we should be thrilled to still be together and able to go on our honeymoon.

We regret not learning the stranger’s name to send him a thank-you note, but John and I have tried to give back by spreading his generosity and kindness to strangers we meet. We think he would be happy about that.

~Kayleen Reusser

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