"How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world."
—Portia, in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice
One of our meeting’s faithful attenders is an auto mechanic. Jak Stoll takes his turn being the opener of our rented meeting-place, setting up the chairs in a hollow square, and lugging out the sandwich board that announces the Quaker meeting to passersby.
On Easter Sunday I was a little early, anticipating that the usual duty-roster might be somewhat blank on this special weekend. Jak was there, his chores finished already. "I think I didn’t make any mistakes this time," he said, laughing a little. "All three doors are unlocked, and the elevator’s turned on." Marilyn was there too, so the snacks were ready. Katrina was going to handle childcare, and I would be the closer. Not as much of an emergency as the calendar keeper had feared. Most posts were covered, though we still needed a greeter. Jak said, "I guess I can do that, if my work duds don’t matter. I wanted to work on my car after meeting—brought home tools from the garage—and didn’t want to lose time changing clothes.
Then he told us why his time was a little short. The day before, his neighbor had come by as Jak started his personal repair job and told him a traveler was stranded in the Food Lion parking lot. The stranger’s Ford had—of course—waited to break down until Saturday, when all the service garages were closed.
Jak thought about it. Here was somebody probably on the way to enjoy a rare holiday weekend with family, maybe in another state, and he was going to have to spend the night (more likely two nights) in a motel—in a town where he apparently didn’t know a soul and wouldn’t find any way but watching boring TV to pass the time. A happy week-end ruined.
So Jak took his diagnostic and other tools across town and soon identified the problem: a failed alternator. He knew where he could buy a replacement, even on the weekend, so he drove the few miles to the supplier and was able to install a new alternator without any further difficulty. The motor turned over at once.
"I had thought of doing it for free," Jak said, "but that didn’t seem quite fair—I could have made a packet. Any garage would have charged three or four times what I did—what with overtime and all. So I suggested what covered the cost of materials. Oh, maybe a little for the morning I had lost from fixing my own car. ‘Is that all you want?’ the guy asked, surprised. ‘Yeah,’ I told him. ‘That’s enough.’ So he wrote me a check and went on his way rejoicing. It made me feel kinda good, y’know?"
There’s an unfortunate tendency in this cynical age to laugh off slogans like the Boy Scout saying, "Do a good turn daily." Old-fashioned and naive, we often think. But how far might Jak’s friendly gift of a Saturday morning go? A rescued family gathering, probably? At the least, a driver ready to be amiable instead of irritated—and so, an accident that didn’t happen? Maybe even an unusually good-natured Monday morning? Who knows? Randomly cast pebbles make waves on far-distant shores.
Earlier in the week, footsore peace marchers had carried their protesting placards through Black Mountain, on the way to Asheville from Raleigh. I’m glad the Asheville newspaper took notice. No doubt there’ll be no headlines about Jak’s "little candle," but such "good deeds" do shine "in a naughty world."