The Kindness of Strangers In a Time of Need

by Elizabeth Hellstern

Sometimes destructive accidents can be a blessed thing.

At dusk on June 22, I was crying with relief and giving hugs to strangers in the middle of eastbound Interstate 84. My partner, Owen and I were near Arlington, OR with our 30’ Airstream trailer on its side and strewn across the lanes, blocking all traffic. Our Suburban was upright, but dented and injured from hitting the median.
 
Traffic was backed up as the fire department figured out how to move our beloved Airstream off the road, as she had peeled open like a sardine can. None of the individuals in those stuck vehicles behind us showed any impatience, and many of them echoed my deepest feelings—“Thank God no one got hurt. That’s the most important thing.”
 
Owen and I were moving his belongings from storage in Newberg, OR to our house in Flagstaff, AZ. We had packed his Airstream (which we affectionately called “Flo”) pretty full and were taking it easy on the interstate.
 
Flo was heavy, and when two fast semis passed us on the bridge, we were caught in their tail-wind which started rocking the Airstream into a pendulum effect. Owen toggled the remote trailer brake lever to slow her down, but the rear trailer wheels with their disc brakes were already alternately lifting off the road. Flo rolled to the right, forcing the heavy Suburban to rotate into the fast lane, ultimately stopping after hitting the concrete divider.
 
There were many human angels that helped us after that initial shock. I need to bear witness to Heidi the Nurse from Wallawalla, and her quiet brother Shawn. Heidi was at the accident and gifted us water, money and many blessings. Yes, I will pay it forward my dear.
 
Owen and I have much gratitude for Pat Shannon of Pat’s Pheasant Grill in Arlington, and his wife Leah, who drove me an hour away to pick up a Uhaul to hold what belongings we could reclaim. They booked a motel for us and left us delicious salads outside their restaurant to devour after cleaning up the wreck. They are truly fine people.
 
Here’s to John Katzenstein, an honorable State Trooper and Matt who gave us a ride into town in his brand-new speedy Dodge Trooper. He showed us its acceleration power as we sat in the plastic back-seats!
 
Our thanks go to the entire fire department of Arlington, and to Lee Hughes and Gary from LCL Hughes Towing in Moro, who worked tirelessly with Owen for 6 hours to sift through the Airstream flotsam to salvage our personal possessions.
 
Thank you to James, of the Rodeway Inn who checked us in at 2 a.m. and Sherry who lent us the hand truck to transfer our heavy materials.
 
The Suburban is being repaired by Andrew and David at Industrial Tire Service in Arlington to be sold into the community.
 
To all these people and more, we are so grateful for your kindnesses. Our love and respect for humanity has been reconfirmed.
 
I’m not a religious person, but I said a prayer in those slow-motion moments as Flo rolled. I am confident that we were divinely protected.
 
That we survived our accident, and then received so many blessings afterwards have made Owen and I more dedicated and determined to live meaningful lives. We will continue to communicate with our hearts first within our family, relationships and in our work.
 
The rollover was also an important testing point for our relationship that cemented our bond even stronger. At the accident scene and afterwards, we didn’t blame or get impatient with each other; we buckled down and handled the logistics as best we could, with a lot of help from strangers. A traumatic event can bring people closer, as they dig deep to handle it as gracefully as possible. And of course, we are fully aware that it could have been so much worse.
 
I have already felt the beauty of helping others myself, but to be on the receiving end of strangers opening their hearts to us was unique. I am humbled by the kindness and love of newly-met people.
 
Our accident this summer was actually a positive experience. We are thankful to the wonderful community of rural Northeast Oregon for the warmth and hospitality shown to a couple on the road, faced with some big obstacles. Owen and I will remember this, and we will extend ourselves to others in return.

Biography

Elizabeth is a writer, fine art curator and student in the MFA in Creative Writing program at Northern Arizona University.
 
She earned her MA in Applied Communication from Northern Arizona University in 2007. Elizabeth enjoys writing stories about people and art.
 
She has published fiction in Blotterature Literary Magazine, and is working on a non-fiction piece for Airstream Life, as well as numerous publications in FlagLive, AZ Daily Sun, Flagstaff Business News, and The Noise.
 
In her free-time, Elizabeth enjoys road trips, museum visits, and writing philosophical ramblings on art posted on her blog “Curator of Words” located at elizabethhellstern.com.