Over the holidays, I had some reminders of just how kind and generous people can be.

I drove my 14-year-old Chevrolet Aveo to the movies in Athol on Saturday, December 21. I had been hunting for an affordable replacement for about a month; the Aveo was demanding more money in repairs than it was worth. To be honest, it had been dropping hints that I should have it looked at, but I was hoping I'd find a new car before I had to spend more on the present one.

I enjoyed the movie--but the drive to Athol was the Aveo's swan song. It blew its clutch in the middle of Rte 2A, at a traffic light. There I was, not moving anywhere--with no cell phone. I'd forgotten it when I left the house.

Not being one to panic, I put on the flashers and thought about what to do. Then people started pulling up and asking if I was okay (yes, I'm just fine, it's the car that's in trouble!). Then someone said she'd call the police for me.

Then a whole car full of young people pulled up and offered to push my Aveo around the corner and down the entrance road to the mall, so I'd be off the main road and by the curb. They did that...

And then they waited, to see if I got help. The police arrived. The young man driving the car that was waiting let me use his cell phone to call AAA.

AAA arrived very fast, and the AAA driver dropped the Aveo off at Brooks, where we found a space in the lot--and I helped the driver roll my car back into the space. Then the driver gave me a ride home.

Now I really needed to get another car, and I did, but that's another story. But before that could happen, I had a full week without any transportation. What made things complicated is that I was scheduled to lead two consecutive Christmas Eve candlelight services in different churches, each one about 30 minutes away from Winchendon and 30 minutes away from each other.

And people stepped up to help. My brother-in-law gave me a ride to the first church, a person from the second church picked me up and brought me to the second church, and another person at the second church gave me a ride all the way home afterwards. On Christmas Eve.

It's humbling to be the recipient of gratuitous kindness--generous help from people who owe me nothing, whose names I don't know, who I can never repay. Of course, I've given many people rides and help, just because it's the thing to do. I've pulled jumper cables out of my car and given stranded stranger's cars a jump start in the middle of dark parking lots. But I'm so independent, I've usually been the one in a position to help, rarely needing it. This time, I needed help, and people were there.

And when you come right down to it, that's what it's all about, isn't it? Altruism--the impulse to help just because it's needed--is the core of civilization. We notice when it's lacking because not being altruistic is a defect, the exception to the rule. Supporting each other, caring about each other, that's something we're born with. Some people lose this impulse, but far fewer than cynics would have you believe. Even the most down-and-out folks do generous and kind things for others, every day.

Even so, let's not take it for granted. And to all those folks who helped me out, I'd like to say, again, THANK YOU!

Inanna Arthen