Chugging Along

Chugging Along
Detail from "The Good Samaritan," circa 1616, by Jacob Jordaens. (Public domain)

Yesterday I woke up at 5 a.m., put the coffee on, and decided to go to the park to watch the sunrise. My days usually go more smoothly when I begin by spending a few minutes reading something insightful. Waiting for the coffee to perk, I sat down to read the now-iconic story, “The Good Samaritan.”

As the parable goes, a Jewish man was beaten, robbed, and left on the road half dead. By chance, a priest and a Levite, the ones you’d expect to comfort an innocent victim, saw the man. Offering no assistance, they passed by on the other side of the road. But a Samaritan man, a member of a group that was hostile to Jews, came near him. Surprisingly, the Samaritan stopped, picked up the injured man, and went out of his way to provide much-needed help.

While driving to the park, it occurred to me that “The Good Samaritan” is similar to a book I enjoyed reading to our sons years ago and now read to our grandchildren, “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper.

The heroes in both stories are the ones least likely to accommodate the characters in need. Although written in 1930, “The Little Engine That Could” has a number of timeless messages for children of all ages.

A little red train carrying toys and food to children who live on the other side of a mountain ran out of coal and broke down. The shiny passenger engine approached and saw the situation but couldn’t be bothered. He passed by saying, “I pull only the richest and best-dressed people.” Subsequently, the strong freight engine approached but also passed by claiming, “I pull only important things.”

Finally, the little blue engine, who had never been over the mountain, came along. She doubted that she could help, but decided to try. She said, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” Sure enough, the one least likely to get the job done got the job done!

So you can see the parallel between the two stories. But that isn’t the insight that slowly came to me while I sipped my java and watched the sun come up.

All of us, including the priest and Levite, and the passenger and freight trains, have emulated the Good Samaritan and the Little Engine. At times, we’ve all gone out of our way to help folks, even when it was inconvenient.

Most likely, The Good Samaritan wasn’t always helpful. He’d gone through seasons of his life responding like the Levite and priest. Eventually he learned that arrogance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. As a result, he now seeks opportunities to help, even when it costs him time and money.

And our sweet little engine that could went through a few egocentric seasons as well, echoing the passenger and freight trains. The isolation that stems from judging others caught up with her. Now she looks for the chance to support and befriend, even when it means doing stuff she has never done before.

So, what message did that beautiful morning sky convey to me?

Nobody gets it right all the time. Cut yourself and everybody else a break as you chug along your track.

Bernadette Bonanno lives in Albany, N.Y.
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