After a long day of bicycling, I missed a turn and spent an hour or so getting back on route as the sun set. The area was too developed to find a campsite in unfenced, unposted woods, but just before dark a large church with acres of manicured lawn appeared as a place of refuge for the weary traveler. Behind it, my one-person tent would be hidden from view and I would be packed and off at dawn. A few cars were parked in front so I stood at their locked glass doors and knocked. And knocked, waiting for someone to come from the well-lit room a few feet on the other side. Finally, a woman came, opened the door a crack and listened as I summarize my trip in a couple sentences and asked if I might "set up my tent behind the church for the night.” She answered, “Well, I don’t see why not, but let me check.” A few minutes later a woman, with mop in hand and the look of a Levite whose temple duties had been interrupted by an unclean intruder, came to the door. She opened it a crack, said “I’m sorry but you may not set up your tent behind the church for the night,” immediately closed the door, and went back to cleansing her church. To her credit, she had quoted my words to the first woman as faithfully as ancient scribes had transmitted biblical texts, whether about the wages of sin or caring for the wandering homeless.
It was 97° when I biked through the southern edge of Manchester, New Hampshire. I needed to camp soon but I had not yet gotten beyond the developed properties on the northern side. The road was narrow but the cars on it were far from few, speeding home from work in the city. I labored on the edge of the road, sweaty, exhausted, beaten by the heat. Having topped a hill in a small town’s center, I moved away from a guy by his pickup as I started to coast down.
“… the night?” What? I looked back. “Are you set for the night?” he called out. I braked and he came toward me. “You need a place to stay?” He had been returning from a visit with his mother in the nursing home when he saw me on the side of the road. An avid cyclist, he was a member of Warm Showers, “a free worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists” and was now offering some of that hospitality to me. Like the beaten traveler loaded onto the back of the Good Samaritan’s donkey, my bike was loaded onto the back of his pickup. Although I had no wounds to be bandaged, my sweaty clothes surely smelled as if I did; to my apology, he replied “I’ve been there.”
His home was just a couple miles from my route, reached via an unlined paved road then a dirt road and driveway through frontage trees. He and his wife had built the home back in the 70’s and expanded it for their children. I would have the children’s side all to myself. After showing me where to get food and do laundry, he went to do garden work in the last minutes of evening light.
He returned as I was finishing his homemade soup and bread. He made lots of bread. He had found that taking a loaf of homemade bread facilitated communion with others in “just wanted to see how you were doing” house visits. We talked for some time. When it came to previous work, he smiled at my being a consultant for Bible translators as he might have if I’d said I was a used-car dealer and he asked no follow-up questions. Later on, he did express enthusiasm for the idea of travel through time to other worlds that I told him I experienced when reading ancient texts in other languages. He spoke of his joy in small-town community involvement, local friendships developed over decades, carpentry, and gardening.
So, "Who was a neighbor to the man" on the bike?
Yes, "The one who showed mercy to him.” I agree but remain more like the levite than the good samaritan in responding to the divine command “Go and do likewise.”
Trails we follow,