It was a weekend. My mother and I just finished our meal at Pointer Cafe in Mineral Point. For those who may not know – it is a small city in Iowa County, in southwest Wisconsin. We were on our way back from Shullsburg, further south in Lafayette County, after an eventful morning. Restaurants and cafes in small cities and villages in Wisconsin have a special charm. Often owned and run by family members, these establishments offer not just good food for the hungry, but also a gathering place for friends and neighbors, and a refreshing stop for the travelers. I do not recall what we ate that day. The course of events that followed, pushed the memory of the food and drinks into a small corner of my mind – one that I cannot access now. But I remember being satisfied with whatever was served on the table.
I have always believed, and still do, that there is a reason for each and every thing that happens to us – whether it’s getting pricked by a nail or bumping into a pillar, seeing a passerby smile at us, or receiving an award on stage, waiting for a delayed bus at the bus-stop or taking a nonstop flight across the country. Our life is a collection of events small and big – one precedes the other, and one makes way for the next. Some are pleasant, others ordinary, a few could be extraordinary, while some certainly are those that we wish would never happen. Our initial perception of an event may not reveal its true meaning, or the lesson that we ought to learn. It may be over time that we understand the message that is bears for us.
That afternoon, after we left the cool interior of the restaurant, and closed the door behind us, I was shocked to see that one of the tires of my car was completely flat. It had been punctured, perhaps by a nail on the road. At the time, I did not know. I stood there in the parking lot, wondering what to do.
Out of all the things that I am proudly capable of, changing a tire was not one. I had defeated muggers in their efforts to seize valuables from me (in two different continents), ran down seven floors of a tall building to shut off the gas line to stop the spread of a kitchen fire, spoken in front of thousands of people, pumped fuel in my car standing six feet away from a wolf at a gas station in Wisconsin, and so much more. But I lacked the confidence to properly and safely change a tire.
Where would I get help? I was getting ready to call my insurance company and have them send emergency assistance. But it would probably be a long time before anyone got there. Furthermore, it was a weekend, and so all automobile and tire shops in the area were either closed, or would soon be.
And then, a gentleman, who was also a patron at the restaurant, appeared, and offered help. He said that he lived close, and would be happy to go home, and bring some equipment to change my tire. I had a full-size spare in my trunk, but nobody to do it for me. The gentleman’s arrival was a blessing.
He changed my tire, as my mother and I watched, deeply touched by his generosity. It took him just a few minutes – something that would have taken me a while if I would have tried. When the task was complete, he would accept nothing from us but simple words of gratitude.
Steven Hermanson identified himself as a retired police officer. He expressed his appreciation seeing that my mother and I were traveling together. He grieved the loss of his mother, and said to me that if he could give away one of his arms to get his mother back, he would do so. That was how much he missed her. It came to us as a shock when Mr. Hermanson told us that he was a cancer patient, and that the life expectancy for someone who suffers from what he has could be around 5 years.
That afternoon, as I drove back to Madison with my the spare tire rolling on the dry, gray roads of southwest Wisconsin, I held the steering wheel, in pensive mood. My mother sat next to me in the car, silent. We both thought about the kindness of this gentleman, and the shocking revelation that he was suffering from a disease that he believed would reduce his life to just a few more years.
Months later, when we visited Pointer Cafe again, we asked the lady behind the counter if she could tell us how we could find Steven Hermanson, and briefly stated how he had helped us. Surprisingly, she said that she would call Mr. Hermanson, and he could be here in minutes.
When he arrived, we sat down at a table and thanked him once again for his generosity and help that day. A nice conversation followed, during which we inquired about his health, how the treatment was going, and I invited him to join me in Madison for a meeting over coffee whenever it would be convenient for him. We exchanged contact information.
Later, my mother and I had often wondered how we was doing. In fact, I was thinking of calling him up and letting him know the next time I would be in Mineral Point. Unfortunately, that day did not come.
When I was in Fennimore, Grant County, for work, few days ago, I met someone who recognized me from having seen me in Mineral Point. She said she is from Mineral Point and recently took a new job in Fennimore. I asked if she knows Steven Hermanson, assuming she may since he served in the law enforcement in the small city for so many years. I received a great shock when she told me he passed away last month. I did not know what to say. After a few moments of silence, I shared with her how my mother and I met Mr. Hermanson, his help, and how much I had hoped to see him again.
I waited until I got home to share the news with my mother. I could see the sorrow on her face. We knew he was ill, undergoing treatment, and a long life was not a strong possibility. But we hoped, and prayed, that God would let him be around his friends and family longer. We must accept God’s decision.
On this Earth, at every step, we have people around us. Some are bound in relationship of blood wherever they may be, others join us in our journey as friends, while some appear briefly for a reason, and depart. I sat down at night, to examine life – with all its joy, pain, and mysteries. Earthly life must come to an end, but we do not know when, where, and how. What we do during this finite lifetime and how we help others are what matter most. I will never forget the help I received from Mr. Hermanson that afternoon. To him, it was simply the changing of a tire. To me, it was a fellow human being helping another, in a time of need, and showing the basic truth of human life – that in this world, we all live for each other.