This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Last week I headed downtown with a car full of hot and cranky kids eager to escape the heat for the bliss of the new Harry Potter movie. I pulled into the parking garage, looked up at the height-restriction sign and realized the car-top carrier was on top of my Sequoia - not too bright, huh?
We were stuck. I frantically tried to motion to the driver behind me to back up while the kids jumped up and down obstructing my view and saying, "Wow, cars are backed up all the way into the next intersection!"
A few drivers simply leaned on their horns while other shook fists out their windows and yelled insults I'd rather not repeat.
I was completely flustered and couldn't see a solution when two homeless men came walking down the sidewalk. They immediately saw my predicament and went out into the street motioning the cars behind me to back up. When they had cleared enough space, one man came forward and talked me through backing up while the other blocked traffic coming from the other direction. He spoke calmly, smiling and nodding his head. "Easy now, you've got four more feet. You're not going to hit the Mercedes. Back up a little more, now to the left ... "
As I finally righted my car and began traveling down the street, the two men cheered and waved. We waved back and yelled our thanks out the window. I could see the joy in their faces in helping another human being.
They made no mention that my sorry situation was my own stupid fault. Perhaps they recognized that they, too, had made mistakes in life and needed help at times, but I honestly think they are just kind, good men.
This event reminded me of another story of my personal stupidity nearly 20 years ago in Milan, Italy. I was traveling with a group of college friends and we picnicked in a park that we had been told was a hotbed of crime. We thought it would be fun.
The lunch was uneventful and we headed back to the convent where we were staying. We were several blocks from the park when I realized I didn't have my pack with me - my pack that contained our room key, my passport, my Eurail pass and all of my money. Yeah, I'd left it in the park.
We ran back to the park with a speed that only true fear can inspire. My friends and I searched the area where we had picnicked and the pack was quite simply gone. I began to weep, as did my friends. How could we find the American embassy? How would we get into our hotel room? What would I do without a train pass or money?
As we despaired, a man with matted hair and tattered clothing approached us. Immediately, I bristled - what did he want from us? He reached into his knapsack and we were afraid that we were about to be mugged. But he pulled out my pack and handed it to me.
In broken English he told me he had seen it on the grass and kept it for me. He warned me that this was a place of thieves and he didn't want it to get stolen. I barely had time to express thanks before he had disappeared into the crowd.
In amazement, my friends and I cried a bit more and then knelt in thanks to God who helps us even in our stupidity. We prayed, just as I did with my boys in the car these years later, that we might not judge those who offer us help and more importantly that we might help others without judging them.
* MICHELLE LEHNARDT is a sometimes writer, avid runner and full-time mother to five boys and one girl. She lives in Salt Lake City.