What Hitchhiking Taught Me About Generosity

hamburg family

In Building a Solid Foundation (over at Cheerful Monk) I mentioned that one of my favorite teachers in high school had hitchhiked around Europe. That sounded like a great experience to me, but I couldn’t imagine doing anything that adventuresome myself. It was too far-fetched to be even a dream.

It just goes to show how little we know. A gazillion years ago I went to Stanford-in-Germany for two quarters and at the end I had five weeks before I had to fly home. A friend of mine had a contact to visit in northern Denmark and planned to bike down the Rhine and then up to Denmark. It sounded like a great adventure and he was happy to have me share it. So we each bought a three-speed bike and took off.

Now one would expect that biking “down” the Rhine would be fairly easy. I mean it had to be downhill, right? That’s certainly true, the river did flow downhill. But the road next to it, the one we biked on, was up and down, up and down. It sure seemed more up than down for our poor out-of-shape legs. We probably would have continued anyway, but by the time we got to Cologne it was clear we were going too slowly. So we revised our plan. We sold the bikes and hitchhiked instead. Hitchhiking! My too-far-fetched-to-be-even-a-dream trip. I vaguely remember it wasn’t always comfortable, but that part of the experience wasn’t important enough to stick in my mind. What does stick in my memory is the people who gave us rides:

  1. The Ranter–One of our first rides was with a German who hated America. He knew we were Americans so he expounded the whole time about how bad America was and how he hated its foreign policy. (Again, this was a gazillion years ago, when most Europeans looked at us fondly.) He even continued his diatribe when we stopped at a pub for a break and he bought us soft drinks. I still smile when I think of him. Even though he hated our country, that didn’t extend to us.
  2. Truck Drivers–A lot of people wouldn’t stop for us, of course, but truck drivers often would. Their semi-trailers had a bench seat in the back of the cab, which they were often happy to let us use. When they didn’t have guests they would use it for sleeping, but I remember one time pulling off to the side of the road so the driver could sleep sitting up. That struck me as the height of hospitality.
  3. The Family From Hamburg–The picture above is of a family in Hamburg…we met the father in the middle of the night on a ferry from Denmark to Germany. The truck driver who had given us a ride to the ferry had told us he couldn’t take us any further, so we had to find another ride while on the boat. The fellow in the picture offered to take us to Hamburg. It was much too late to go to a youth hostel, so we figured we would find our way to the train station and spend the night there. We had done it before…the seats were hard but at that time it was safe and no one would bother us. Instead of dropping us off, though, the fellow took us to his home and let us sleep in his living room. Not only that, he and his wife invited us to stay for a couple of days so we could see Hamburg. I can’t remember their names, but I’ll never forget them.

What I Learned
This post is a contribution to Robert Hruzek’s writing challenge What I Learned From the Generosity of Others. What I learned from hitchhiking was

  1. That there were many people willing to reach out and help two kids on a youthful adventure.
  2. And that I was profoundly touched by their generosity. I hadn’t realized before how deeply I cared about friendliness. Partly because of this experience I eventually understood that one of my main goals is life is simply to make my little corner of the world a more friendly and loving place.

Our culture tends to worship achievement, money and fame. I can’t think of anyone I admire more than the truck driver who slept sitting up because he was letting two kids use his bench seat, or the family who shared a bit of their lives with two adventurers. I’m still grateful to them for helping me keep my priorities straight.

What About You?
Have you ever been touched by the generosity of others? How did it affect you?

Thanks to rummuser and bikehikebabe for commenting on last week’s post.
This entry was posted in Lifelong Learning, Love and Compassion. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to What Hitchhiking Taught Me About Generosity

  1. rummuser says:

    Jean, I too had a great experience exactly on the same high way as you were on in Germany. I was not hitch hiking but being driven to Frankfurt from Dusseldorf by a friend. We stopped at a roadside inn for a coffee and I was accosted by a huge German who asked me if I was an Indian. When I confirmed that I was, he was full of the time that he spent in India and insisted on paying for our snack and coffee and since he wanted to talk more to me, he lifted me up into his cabin on a huge semi and drove me to the outskirts of Frankfurt. A total stranger but a truck driver who reached out and made me realize that what you see outside as being reserved is often a mask for some very warm feelings inside.

    rummusers last blog post..BlogCrash – Community Forum

  2. EVA says:

    Hi Jean,

    I used to hitchhike as a teenager – mostly around the city (don’t tell my daughters!). I always found people very nice. There were a few odd ones. Once or twice I just looked in the car and felt “nope” and said I’d forgotten something and walked away. Mostly very generous people.

    A few years ago I came across this site http://hitch50.com/ as they were making their way across the country. The generousity of the people they met was amazing! Instead of seeing the worst of human nature through hitchhiking, I believe that they, like you, saw the best.

    EVAs last blog post..Rhubarbolution!

  3. SpaceAgeSage says:

    I’ve been on the receiving end of much generosity, including during travels outside my own country. It makes me feel warmed, renewed, and grateful. I’m thankful to have seen more of the brighter and better side of life than its underbelly.

    SpaceAgeSages last blog post..Myth, Supersition, or The Real Thing?

  4. Jean says:

    rummuser,
    What a neat experience for you! He clearly loved the time he spent in India.

    EVA,
    :) I promise not to tell your daughters. I never talked about my hitchhiking either. I get the impression it’s not nearly as safe now-a-days.

    SpaceAgeSage,
    I know what you mean…generosity can be life-changing, especially when it comes from strangers. It’s not that we don’t appreciate it when it’s from people we know, but we often feel the need to reciprocate, even if they don’t want that.

  5. Maya says:

    What a wonderful story Jean.

    I cannot think of any story right now, but as a family we try to celebrate generosity and kindness – so hopefully our kids will carry this forward – one person at a time :)

    Mayas last blog post..A Simple Happiness Equation: A Picture

  6. Jean says:

    Maya,
    Good for you for trying to instill it in your children by example.

  7. Pingback: hitchhiking 101 for dummies | bethanyshaffer.com

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