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Under a barrage of road rage, a woman found help from a stranger when her car stalled

Mary Griffis' unsung hero reminded her that people need to support each other and to keep going.
Mary Griffis
Mary Griffis' unsung hero reminded her that people need to support each other and to keep going.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series from the Hidden Brain team. It features stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

In 2022, Mary Griffis lost her brother Peter to suicide.

In the months that followed, Griffis had to navigate the overwhelming experience of both grieving her brother's death and squaring away all the logistics of his estate.

"It's hard to explain just how devastating it is to have to call again and again and say, 'I'm calling on behalf of my deceased brother's estate ... day in and day out for months and months and months and months," Griffis said.

When all the arrangements had been made and Peter's house had been sold, Griffis didn't know what to do with herself.

"It was like, 'What do I do now?' And thought, 'Well, I think my brother would want me to do something that makes me happy,'" Griffis remembered.

Mary Griffis with her brother Peter Griffis.
/ Mary Griffis
Mary Griffis
Mary Griffis with her brother Peter Griffis.

So she decided to do something that she'd always wanted to do: learn how to drive a manual transmission car.

"It was really fun. Just the joy, the sense of freedom of driving and not really having to go anywhere, but just learning something new ... it was very comforting for some strange reason."

Griffis enjoyed it so much that she decided to buy a car with a manual transmission. She found one that fit her budget and went and picked it up from the dealership. After pulling out of the lot, everything was fine for about two or three miles. Then she hit heavy traffic on a narrow, two-way road. Her car stalled out – and there was no breakdown lane. She took a deep breath and tried to start the car a few times, but it wouldn't go.

"And at this point, because of the traffic, people were so angry. They were swearing, they were honking, people even rolled down their windows and gave me the finger, and I just kind of died inside," Griffis recalled.

As people swerved around her, Griffis became more and more distraught. Eventually, one of the cars slowed down.

"This woman, she could see my hands shaking, and she slowed down and she said, 'Do you need help? Hold on, I'm pulling over.' And she did. She pulled over and she got out of the car."

To Griffis' surprise, the woman started directing traffic.

"And she looked at me and she said, 'My goodness, you would think people could remember to be kind in an emergency,'" Griffis said.

The woman then introduced herself as Robin. She chatted cheerfully with Griffis, all while fending off the angry drivers trying to get around Griffis' car. The whole ordeal turned out to be a pivotal moment in Griffis' life.

"Instead of this turning into one of the most painful and discouraging experiences of my life ... she came along and she turned it into something good," Griffis said.

"It reminded me that it wasn't fair that we lost my brother, that he did have a lot to hope for. That what we really need is to be kind and to be good to one another, to support each other, and to keep going. [To] not to give up."

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Autumn Barnes
Laura Kwerel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]