I was in a hurry, if you must know. I was driving an hour and a half for my baby sister’s graduation, and a couple of unplanned errands put me behind schedule. One of the stops was a quick gas-up, and I was going about it rather briskly. Swipe the card. Open the cap. Jab in the nozzle. 
I was willing the gas to flow faster when a woman approached me from the other side of the gas pump. She was well-dressed in a peach pant suit and white blouse; her white hair was set in a soft curl; her frame slight. The woman looked at me hesitantly.
“So, what kind do you usually use,” she asked me, looking at the pump.
“I just use Regular,” I said, pointing at the button.
“Oh,” she said. “I wasn’t sure.” She looked around nervously.
I looked at the dollar meter rolling up past $30.00; I still had a little ways to go.

“Do you need some help,” I asked, knowing that it would make me later than I already was. In my mind, I began to concoct a story about “the old woman who needed my help.” That would surely make up for part of my tardiness.
“Well, if you don’t mind,” the woman said.
“Just let me finish up here,” I told her, not wanting to leave the open nozzle unattended.
When I went around to the other side, I saw that she had already swiped her credit card, had already picked up the nozzle and inserted it into the tank, and had even selected “Regular.” The only thing she hadn’t done was start pumping.
“Oh, it looks like you’ve done a great job,” I said to her, mentioning each of the things that she had done right. She obviously just needed a little reassurance.
“Well, I used to get my own gas all the time at the gas station near my house,” she said.
“Did you move?” I asked.
She said, “Yes,” then named a nearby assisted living facility. She was of the age when few women who are married get their own gas. I wondered about her husband. I also wondered whether the move had been her choice or her children’s. And what had happened to her house?
“Well, then this was close for you,” I said.
“Is this place ok?” she asked, suddenly unsure again. She was so nervous, so alone. What courage she had mustered just to ask a stranger for help. Then I remembered I was wearing a dress. And I have that trustworthy look. This wasn’t my first encounter with a stranger.
“Oh yes, this station is fine. Or there’s another just down the road from where you live,”I told her, explaining the intersection.
“I am so glad you were here; I don’t know what I would have done without you,” she said.
“Oh, I think you would have been just fine,” I told her, saying it at the same time to a future me, the one who would be pumping gas here in twenty years, alone.

And I got back into my car and drove away as she finished pumping her gas.

Photo by Håkan Dahlström, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.