Ever since the days of our Paleolithic, cave-dwelling predecessors, family has served as a refuge against the dangers of the world. After all, exposed and relatively defenseless, our ancestors stood a fairly good chance of being eaten by a member of a predatory species. Although I don’t have firsthand experience, I presume it doesn’t take long to discover there is safety and comfort in togetherness when you’re being stalked by a gi-normous tiger.

Though we don’t have to dodge saber tooth cats today, the protective bond of family is as important as ever. Unlike in the past, though, ­­us modern-day humans tend to live and work in communities with vast numbers of folks we’re not related to, generally keeping to ourselves and ignoring the problems of others. And with headlines dominated by stories of mean, cruel, and cold people doing mean, cold, and cruel things, we have good reason to isolate ourselves from strangers—our world can be a downright terrifying place. I know that I had begun to lose my faith in the goodness of people, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. But then a complete stranger treated me like family.

As lake dwellers, you might not be familiar with Independence Boulevard in Charlotte, but think the Daytona 500, only with six lanes of traffic. So when my car stalled, I was filled with fear as my son and I pushed it across the lanes of oncoming cars as drivers honked and shouted not-so-helpful suggestions. Just as I was about to give up, a stranger was there pushing with us. At the shoulder, I thanked him profusely, expecting him to be on his way—after all, his beach-bound family was waiting for him in his car. Instead, this complete stranger waved down drivers, procured jumper cables, and tried to jump-start my battery. When that failed, he drove to Auto Zone, purchased a new battery, then returned to put it in my car. When that didn’t work either, he called a friend with a towing business and waited with us until he got there. Nearly three hours later, when he should have been sitting on a beach with a cool beverage in his hand, he finally turned to leave. As I hugged him and once again expressed my gratitude, he replied, “That’s what family does, right? And the way I see it, we’re all just part of one big family.”

What a wonderful world it would be if we all treated each other—both friend and stranger alike—as family. After all, we are all part of the human family, trying to make it in this crazy adventure called life. But then again, perhaps this experience was meant to show me that many of us already do just that. Maybe, because I had begun to expect the darkness in people, that’s all I was able to see. This kind stranger showed me that the world is full of good people—family, really—I just had to look for them. So the next time I meet a stranger in the line at the grocery or in the waiting room at the dentist, instead of politely nodding and then burying my face in my phone, I’m going to ask, “How’s your mom and them?”…because that’s just what family does.