BY MIKI MARKOVICH
In August of 1990, I slowly drove my 1980 AMC Concord hundreds of miles north to begin my first year of college. Even though it had only second gear, I loved this car as it had not only provided shelter in the past, it also consistently got me from place to place, albeit slowly.
Excited and scared to begin this new chapter, I followed the signs from Interstate 55 into the small Midwestern town. Finding a parking spot, I initiated the emergency brake and stepped out into the sunny day.
As I looked around, trying to orient myself so I could move on the next task of finding my residence hall, my car started rolling back down the newly discovered College Hill. I reacted quickly, throwing myself behind it, trying to block its descent. While I willed the car back up the hill and back into its proper spot, I started attracting a fair amount of attention.
Tenacious yet absolutely fruitless in my efforts, I was soon joined by three rather large young men. As if this kindness wasn’t enough, after depositing my car onto a flat area, successfully avoiding any further trouble, they then gathered all of my belongings and escorted me to my residence hall. During this entire ordeal, I had yet to say a word, merely turning a vivid red. Only after these college football students deposited my belongings in my room, was able to squeak out some words of gratitude.
Before packing my belongings into the old, brown car that it took a village to park “on the hill,” I had been told that once I arrived on campus everything but my books would be covered by scholarships and loans. With $290 in my pocket, I headed to the administration building to check in and sign my paperwork.
After standing in line for hours, I was told $600 and some change was due immediately. I felt sick. I pulled out my book money and explained that I didn’t have the rest. The woman matter of factly told me to call my parents for the remaining amount. I explained I didn’t have any parents to call. She probed further, asking whom I did have. I could think of no one. People in line behind me started to grumble and I could feel my face flushing with stress and embarrassment.
She said, “Without the money, you can’t start school.” I panicked. Just as I was feeling everything go black and was starting to leave the line, a young man I’d never met stepped up to the counter and told her to put the remaining balance on his credit card. I told him he couldn’t do that. Having heard the entire conversation, he asked what my plan was, and since I had no plan at all, I accepted his kindness.
Even though I had given all of my money to the woman at the desk and no longer had funds for books, I was excited about being in college. Always one of the first to arrive, I’d grab a seat, take out my notebooks and ready myself to soak it all in.
After six or so weeks into the first semester, one of my suite mates asked why she never saw me carrying books to class. Reading the shock on her face as I explained, I told her that it was really OK because I was a meticulous note taker. Sure, it wasn’t an ideal situation, but I was there I was in college. When she offered to buy my books, I thanked her but turned her down. Although I loved my campus job, I only worked 10 hours per week at minimum wage and knew it was going to take me months to pay back the young man from the admissions fiasco. Being one of the most wonderfully stubborn women I know, she insisted, telling me I could take as long as I needed to repay, that her father had the money and would never even notice the transaction.
It’s funny: I’m friends with her father on Facebook and often wonder if he knows that he had a pivotal role in my academic success. In reality, they all did. I was a poor girl, with a broken down car and a criminal family history. Yet at college, nobody knew or cared where I came from or the condition of my car. We had met at an intersection of self-discovery and faith in others. Only because of my desperation had I accepted the kindness and help of these complete strangers. However, I gained lifelong friendships, faith in humanity and the importance of accepting help when it’s graciously offered. It makes me wonder what would happen if we all suspended judgment not and again and extending a helping hand to the stranger we see in need. And as far as that old, brown car? Well, it taught me a great lesson as well. If you can only move forward, there are no worries about what’s behind you.
Miki Markovich is a seeker of beauty and truth, traveler of interesting roads, saver of furry souls, typer of words, iPhone lover and mac head. You can find her on Twitter at @mikimarkovich and @fiveminutezen. If you’re looking to go from pissed to blissed in five minutes flat, find balance or improve the quality of your life through self care, check out her website at fiveminutezen.com.