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Random Acts.

February 23, 2009

I was reading “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson on the train Friday night, on my way up to Erik’s house for the weekend, when I overheard their conversation. It came in bits and pieces at first, because I didn’t want to be accused of eavesdropping. But I heard a man say something about which places this particular train was stopping at, and I heard a woman respond with more questions. I tried to focus on my book. Their plans were none of my business.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the man unfold a train schedule. He said something about New York. The woman asked something about those being the only places it stopped. The man, who was sitting across from her, didn’t seem to have a clear idea of how to answer her questions.

“This is an express train,” I said. I told her the names of the towns it stops at. She looked nervous. “Where are you going?” She told me the name of the town. “Yeah, we’ve already passed that.”

The woman’s face looked grim. The man, who was examining the schedule, said something about trains coming back. I offered to look up the schedule on my iPhone. I logged into and looked up the train schedule going back to her town later that night. It wouldn’t arrive until 10 pm. The woman gasped, “Oh no…”

I asked her if she had someone who could pick her up. She said she didn’t, and that she was supposed to drive home to Maryland that night, which is about a four hour drive from northern New Jersey.

I thought about what other options there were. There was discussion about taking a bus, but the website didn’t show any bus stations in New York, only New Jersey. There was another train line that was about 5 miles west from the train line we were on. I told her that I could take her there. I looked up the schedule.

“There is a 7:25 p.m. train there that will take you back to Secaucus, then you can get on another train. It will get you back a little after 8:30,” I said. The woman weighed her options. I could tell she was concerned. “Do you want me to take you?” The woman said yes, resigned to the fact that she would be leaving so much later than she wanted. The man said it made the most sense, that at least she would be on a train where it was warm. I told her about a time, during my first winter in New Jersey, when I got on a train that skipped my stop as well. I ended up waiting in the dark on a snowy night for an hour until the next train came.

But as we talked, I had this horrible pit in my stomach. You should take her home, a little voice said. Her town was barely half an hour away from the train station stop by car. It didn’t make sense to drive her fifteen minutes to another train station just to make her spend 80 minutes on a train. It made even less sense to have her stay at the first train station, waiting over 2 hours for the next train to come. The only plans Erik and I had were to go home and eat boxed Indian food from Trader Joe’s.

So I made a phone call. I called up Erik and I said, “Can I ask a favor?” I told him about the woman on the train and how she got on the wrong train and needed a ride home so she could drive to Maryland that night.

“Sure,” he said.

I told the woman that if it was okay with her, my boyfriend and I would drive her home. The woman was so stunned, so shocked that I thought she might cry on the train. She said, “Are you sure?” and then thanked me. When we reached the train station, we stood on the platform while we waited for Erik to arrive.

“My name is Alison,” the woman introduced herself. I tried not laugh.

“Me too,” I said. She laughed. We compared spellings, which is how I discovered she spelled it with one L.

The drive down was easy. There was no traffic, so we managed to make it in record time. The woman gave me her business card, and I gave her one of mine. She told me she wanted to send us something to say thank you, but I told her it wasn’t necessary and that we were happy to do it.

We waved good-bye and drove off, our mission accomplished.

I told Erik how good I felt that we had done that. I told him how when I was sitting there on the train I thought that I would feel so guilty if I didn’t do something. There was nothing stopping me from helping this woman and driving her home. The only reason not to help her was if I didn’t want to, and that’s not really a reason.

There are so many times that I have not helped someone merely because I didn’t want to. Not because I couldn’t, not because I didn’t have time or money. I just didn’t want to. That isn’t a reason. That’s an excuse. I’m not going to be perfect at doing this each time, and there may be another time in the future where I really will have something that I need to take care of or do or someone else who is dependent on me. That’s okay. But I think we should all remember that when we are faced with a situation, to really think about what are options are regarding what we can do and what we can say. If you can help, please help.


Erik and I decided to ditch the idea of having Indian food after all. So we went to Chevy’s at the mall. Guess what our waiter’s name was?


My boyfriend, Erik, and I (Allison, in case you forgot my name) met only two people Friday night. Their names? Alison and Eric. Same names, different spellings.


  1. February 23, 2009 2:05 PM

    Sometimes helping a stranger is the best thing you can do. You never know when they are really angels sent to check on us. 🙂

  2. Kate permalink
    February 23, 2009 2:15 PM

    Such a great story! Thanks for making me smile 😉 And ya know, I’ve found that those neat little “coincidences” tend to come along with doing kind and nice things like that… the two are related somehow.

  3. February 23, 2009 2:37 PM

    Somewhat random, but the coincidental names made me think of a friend I had in college and his girlfriend – Aaron and Erin. That was perpetually confusing. Great story though, and obviously a great message, Allison!

  4. February 23, 2009 2:45 PM

    That is awesome! It’s really all about paying it forward.

    BTW, I ate at Chevy’s on Friday night too! I love Tex Mex, even if it’s commercial and everything. 🙂 They have awesome Happy Hour deals.

  5. February 23, 2009 3:14 PM

    So often we don’t listen to that voice inside. Good job. It doesn’t take a lot sometimes to make a HUGE impact on someones life.

    And thanks for the tears. 🙂

  6. February 23, 2009 3:43 PM

    I’m with George – Great job on listening to your gut & helping a fellow “Alison.”

  7. February 23, 2009 4:04 PM

    I think God puts a little angel in all of us…you and Eric were definely an angel to this woman. I love this story!

  8. David permalink
    February 23, 2009 5:05 PM

    It’s a family tradition. Your grandparents flying back from Europe met a family of three on the plane. Upon landing in the Bay Area, this family found themselves stranded with no clue how to recover from their busted plans. Your grandparents without flinching, offered to take them in for an entire night (they lived 35 miles from the ultimate destination in San Francisco) which I (your father) took them to the next day.

    You grandmother stayed in touch with the couple for many years after.

    You do it cause its right and because one day, you may be the one needing the help.

  9. February 23, 2009 7:57 PM

    It feels so awesome to actually know that you are helping someone else and making a difference in their life. I bet Alison will never forget you and I also bet she pays it forward to someone else who needs help! Great Karma! Way to go girl!

  10. February 23, 2009 8:18 PM

    What you did was so nice for that woman. I bet she has already told tons of people and she will never forget it.

    Side note: I am also reading 3 cups of Tea right now. It is a little slow-moving in my opinion, but has a great message.

  11. February 24, 2009 12:33 PM

    I have a similar story in which I was in college waiting at an airport to go home for Thanksgiving or fall break. There was a family who had gotten some misinformation about whether their youngest son needed a ticket and it turned out he did but they didn’t have enough money and the mom was freaking out. Everyone sort of ignored this family, and I had no obligations and plenty of cash on me. So I walked up to them and gave them enough money to get a ticket for their son. I expected nothing in return, but the dad asked the flight attendant to get my contact information. I gave it to him, but still expected nothing. They returned the money and I got a Christmas card from them that year. It gave me such satisfaction to know I could help someone in a time of need and gave me such faith in humans that they not only returned the money but remembered me at Christmas time.

    Also, you’d love the book series by SQuire Rushnell called When God Winks. It’s about how the power of coincidence guides our lives. I read the first book and emailed the author (whose name does strangely have two caps) a story that happened to me when I was in college and he included the story in his next book called When God Winks at You. Anyway, I love the books and love telling people about them. If you read it, you’ll start to see God winks everywhere.

  12. February 24, 2009 4:41 PM

    What a great story! 🙂

    I have to agree with paying it forward. I’ve always believed in the fact that if you do something nice for someone then it comes back to you twice as good. Sure, you could have gone home that night…but there was a reason you didn’t. That woman could have been put in a terrible situation by getting on another train…anything could have happened but YOU took the time to offer to change the way things could have gone and in turn she arrived safe. Very cool about the name thing too! Ya just never know when those “Angels” are going to put us to the test!

  13. February 24, 2009 5:26 PM

    How cool would it be if we could spend all of our lives just helping people? Not for anything other than for how good it feels to help. It’s actually kind of selfish, I guess, but I think the world would be alright with that.

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