|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - June 2009
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
Does ‘help thy fellow man’ mean every man?
Polk County Enterprise - June 2009
By DEBBIE HARLOW
While on a serendipitous trip over the weekend, my husband and I happened on an opportunity to define in our hearts what it really meant to help our fellow man or, in this case, family. Around 9:30 p.m. we were traveling west on Interstate 10 about an hour and a half from Houston. It was a Friday night and there was an unusual amount of traffic — most of which was exceeding the 70 mile per hour speed limit. We had just commented that the traffic was probably people headed out of town for the weekend and just happy to be going. We didn’t know we were about to meet one of those families on their way to a weekend vacation at Sea World in San Antonio. In what seemed like a splitsecond, flames began to engulf a vehicle which had just come to rest in the middle of the esplanade right before we happened on the event. As we whizzed by, smoke blocked our view in front of us. My husband hit the brakes and began to veer to the side of the road.
“They have babies,” I exclaimed as we passed the shadows of people running from the vehicle. After coming to a quick stop, my husband began to back the truck up slowly to reach the silhouetted victims of the fire while staying a safe distance from the burning vehicle. We quickly exited the truck and began to run towards them. In the darkness, with flames growing intensely in the background, we could see three adults and three small children. As we drew closer to them, we could see two women, each adorned with a black abaya*. The man wore a thobe along with sirwal pants. The three small children, ages 1, 5 and 7, were all in American street clothes. There was only one pair of sandals between the adults and the small boy had been pulled from the burning vehicle wearing only one shoe. All three children had been sleeping until wakened as they were hastily removed from the vehicle. For a brief moment, I felt the cultural differences between us might affect my natural response to help and their perceptions of what I said and did.
Was it because they were Muslim and I was a patriotic Texan to the core? Was it because there was some fear of saying the wrong thing or infringing on their ways as a race or religion? I have to be honest and say I wondered for a split-second if they were going to look down on us as pathetic Americans. After all, that image has been spoken of on too many occasions in the mainstream media. In less than the moment it took me to think all of that, I had to think about who I was and take a stand. I moved more quickly towards the family. The mother of the three children was obviously in shock as she stood in bewilderment staring at the monstrous fire. As a mother myself, I was sure the thought that her children could have been taken from her in that instant was reeling in her mind. Her husband and sister-in-law were calmly trying to comfort her all the while each of them holding a child. When I offered a touch of comfort myself and attempted to compassionately place my hands around the mother’s hand, I felt a slight resistance. I respected the signal and stepped back even though my heart ached for her.
After ensuring all had escaped safely, they accepted our offer of cool water and a place to sit in our truck until authorities arrived. As time went by, I tended the children while the three adults gave their account of the event. The seven-year-old daughter was a brilliant, talkative child with aspirations of success. While her school pride and her love of math exuded, she was quickly drawn back to the reality of a sevenyear- old when she remembered her brand new Monopoly game had burned in the fire. I assured her that her father, whom she lovingly called Abba, would no doubt get her another. She later told me the language they were speaking was Urdu and Abba translates to “Father.” I later learned that Urdu is one of the two official languages of Pakistan, the other being English which they all spoke very clearly. The 21-year-old sister of the children’s father had just married last week and lost her computer and all of her wedding photos in the fire. As tragic as the event was, she seemed the most calm and often extended a thankful smile. The mother remained at her husband’s side throughout the event. When the ordeal finally was over and all parties were to go their way, the family of six needed a safe place to wait for the husband’s brother to arrive to take them back home. We proceeded to load the six of them and the two of us into our truck and relocate them to the next town about 10 miles further west.
Upon arriving at the next town and getting the children settled, the mother took my hand and looked graciously into my eyes and said, “Thank you. You are a kind lady.” We hugged and two mothers were thankful that our children were safe that night. As we said our goodbyes, I thought about how I believed God saved them that night and sent us to be helping angels for them. In truth, God saved me too because I was reminded that we should help our fellow man, regardless of who they are. I have a feeling the mother of those children thanked her god that night too. * CLOTHING IN ARAB COMMUNITIES EXPLAINED An abaya is the loose, usually black robe worn by Muslim women. A thobe (or thawb) is an anklelength garment worn by men in the Arab peninsula. It usually has long sleeves and is similar to a robe.