notes from a toastmaster's talk i gave titled MY FINEST HOUR.
as of this moment this is how many hours i have been on this planet.
of those hours lived, one of them has proven to be the most meaningful and satisfying of them all.
MADAM toastmaster, fellow toastmasters, honored guests.
today i would like to tell you about THIS hour
in a horribly CLICHE start to a story
the day was like many others before it.
i woke up (most likely late)
i went to work (also most likely late)
i came home (probably on time)
at the end of the work day my young wife, marty, and i looked at each other
deliberating about what to do for dinner that night.
as with many nights before, we decided to go out to eat.
we are fortunate to live in a community that has many walking options
so we grabbed some cash and set out.
halfway to our destination we came upon a car in a parking lot we had to cross.
it sat in a row of open spaces, well apart from the parked cars closer to the shops.
its doors were open and the hood was raised.
as we got closer i saw it was exactly like the first car i ever owned
a 1976 volvo station-wagon (a 244dl for those in the know)
my mind sped through flashbacks of the many hours i spent working on that car
replacing alternators, water-pumps, and changing the oil.
sometimes that work took place in a freezing-cold wintertime garage
and sometimes that work took place on the side of a dusty span of wyoming highway.
as we went by a man in a grease-smeared t-shirt pulled himself out from beneath the car.
we exchanged pleasantries and after a few more steps i asked marty to give me a second.
i turned back to the man and asked if he could use a hand.
he politely dismissed the offer saying he had things under control.
now, as he spoke i noticed over his shoulder that there were people sitting in the car
behind the wheel sat a very heavy-set woman
and behind her in the backseat were three elementary aged kids
each and every one of them were shiny with sweat,
and looking every bit as miserable as you'd expect.
after taking in the family i asked the man again this time adding that
i'd done a fair bit of work on this exact kind of car because
it was the first car i ever owned.
he thanked me and declined again.
he added that at the moment he was wishing he'd never owned the car.
marty and i moved on.
walking back after dinner the car and family sat in the same spot
as we passed i again asked the man if he would like a hand.
again he said no and we continued on.
after getting back to our apartment marty went off to do what she usually did on weekday evenings - grade papers.
and i went off to do what i did - play duke nukem 3D with friends on my gateway computer.
before my computer finished booting up (this used to take longer back then)
i popped out of my chair and moved towards the front door.
marty asked where i was going.
i said i was going to go help that man.
she reminded me that he was pretty clear about not wanting my help.
i replied that i thought the people in the car might not share his sentiment
and stepped through the door.
when i got back the man was leaning on the fender, head sagging over the lifeless engine .
i took the spot on the other fender also leaning in under the hood.
this time i didn't ask if he wanted help.
this time i asked what the problem was.
he raised his head effortfully and looked at me across the still engine.
were he not so tired his "you again" face would have been more
convincing and perhaps intimidating.
but with a sag he described what was happening.
"it just won't start. it will turn over. it will crank. it just won't fire up."
i asked him what he had tried so far in fixing it.
he went through a long and impressive list of his measures,
steps that included removing the gas pump and ensuring the line was clear
(no small on-the-fly feat to do in a parking lot with on-hand tools).
i asked him if he checked the fuses.
he said no and asked what those were.
i explained that this model of car had not one but two gas pumps.
one under the center of the car and one in the gas tank itself.
and that they were both electric. and both had their own fuse.
it's possible that he blew a fuse and one or both of the pumps were inoperable because of that.
he confirmed he hadn't checked for this.
i said we should check them and walked around the car and
crouched down in the driver's doorway.
i pulled the fusebox cover off.
i showed him how the back of the cover had a listing of all the fuses
describing what each one did.
i traced my finger down the list and found the first mention of fuel pump.
as i was doing this i remembered someone was sitting in the drivers seat
and it occurred to me that i might be crowding them.
from my crouched position i looked up towards the woman.
due to the heat she had one leg in the car close to the gas peddal and one leg out.
where i was sitting i was smack between the giant woman's legs.
in fact in many ways it looks like this woman just gave birth to a gargantuan baby.
i smiled nervously and said sorry.
she didn't do much in the way of react.
i could see her tank of patience was surely running on fumes at this point.
i returned to the fuses, found the first fuse and pulled it from the box.
i placed it in the palm of my hand and showed the man
that this fuse was still in tact and showed him how you could tell.
i popped it back in.
i then found the second fuse and pulled it.
i again placed it in my palm.
this one was devastated and i showed him how
the metal band connecting the two sides was fried.
his face perked up and asked where he could get some.
i said auto stores have them but for now we could pull a fuse that wasn't being used
and plug it in just to see if that would fix the problem.
in re-scanning the list i found one that was dedicated to the rear-demist
and explained he clearly wouldn't be using this one today.
so i pulled it out and plugged it into the gas pump's spot.
i told the woman to try starting it.
unenthusiastically, she leaned forward and rotated the key.
the car's engine began churning but didn't catch.
then, there was a sputter.
then, a cough.
and then it roared to life.
before i could fully turn or inflate my lungs to shout in celebration
i was grabbed bear-hug style by the man and lifted a foot into the air
he shook me back and forth as if i were a stuffed doll.
when he set me down i staggered back a step fully stunned.
before i collected my wits the woman was out of the car.
although she could not have been more the five foot six,
she grabbed me up and effortlessly lifted me into the air.
in my mind's eye i imagined i had to be fully engulfed in her mass,
entirely invisible to the world around us.
while she rocked me back and forth over her shoulder i could see the children.
they were whooping. they were dancing. they were smiling.
giant smiles reserved for special occasions.
walking home from this experience was the happiest moment of my life.
and let's be clear, i've LED a ridiculously awesome life.
i was ADOPTED and raised by an extraordinary woman.
i ENJOYED a safe and loving childhood
i WORK in a challenging and rewarding career.
I MARRIED the most beautiful woman i ever met.
i have three healthy and spirited kids.
(which means i've had REPEATED intercourse with that beautiful woman)
and still, even counting all of those boons and blessings,
- that moment on a parking lot i passed by hundreds of times
- that moment on a nondescript weekday evening that resembled so many before it
- that moment with FIVE STRANGERS i'd never seen before and never saw again
proved the most fulfilling moment of the hundreds of thousands of hours i've lived
to that point and since.
so given this unexpected emotional windfall
i suggest you keep your eye open for opportunities where
- your time
- your expertise,
- your life experience
can help people
especially people you don't know
because believe it or not
helping others in a moment of need
is better than sex with beautiful people.