My grandmother used to say that everyone had some good in them, if you just look for it. And she believed it. When I feel mistreated by others, I often remember her sweet face and the way she believed in people. She fed all who walked into her house and loaned money to some, knowing she may never get it back, but trusting that the good in them would overcome. Sometimes it did.
In contrast, only three generations down the line is my daughter who avows that there are no good people! She believes that every human being is rotten to the core; that no one can be trusted. Two abusive husbands and ugly divorces helped reinforce this belief. I hope time will erase some of her bitterness.
I hover somewhere between the two. I’m not as trusting as my grandmother was, but - though I harbor some wounds, too - I could never be as cynical as my daughter. In fact, I often trust too much, and at times, my family fears for my safety. I talk to everyone. On the street. In stores. Elevators. Doctors’ offices. Wherever there are people, I’m making conversation.
Once, when my daughter and I were on our way to Michigan to visit her older sister and her family, I got lost somewhere in Ohio. My way of handling a situation like that was always to ask someone. I’d found in the past that most people were nice. And helpful.
But this time, I somehow got off the main highway and headed up a narrow road that appeared to lead into the woods. Except, suddenly, there we were, right in front of an old service station. I stopped the car, ready to call out to some of the young men standing in front, but my daughter yelled at me, “Mother, get out of here!” I said, “Why? I’m gonna ask for directions.” She shouted, “No. Turn this car around NOW and get out of here as fast as you can!”
The urgency in her voice and fear in her eyes made a believer out of me and I did what she said. Lucky for us, my car turned easily and I didn’t have to back up. I swung wide, circled around and headed back the way we’d come. Looking back in the mirror, I could see three or four of the smiling young men watching us go – and I shivered.
It seems my daughter’s instinct was better than mine that time. She somehow knew that this was not a regular service station – that it was too secluded and could have been anything – and she knew it wasn’t the kind of place for two women alone to stop and ask for assistance. Who knows what might have happened to us if she hadn’t been so insistent?
But I wonder how my grandmother would have handled the same situation. Something tells me she would have trusted them to be kind - and just maybe they would have been. I believe people tend to live up to, or down to, what we expect of them.