One evening. One drive. One Chore. One need. One mistake. Many blessings.
The other night I drove to my father’s old house to complete one final repair in the back and forth negotiation for its sale. While on my way I noticed my tank was low on fuel…really low. The nearest gas station rested anxiously in a community known for…well, umm…let’s say my Spidey-senses were on full alert.
Pulling in, I covered my angles. I surveyed a full 360…took note of vehicles, individuals, groups, and escape routes. I checked my pockets for what could be left in the car…and locked. With debit card in hand, I proceeded to pump the gas. As I figured, smooth sailing. Feeling good about being prepared even though I really did not anticipate trouble, I replaced the gas nozzle and proceeded to get back in the car.
“Argh! (Deep guttural groan)! Are you kidding me!?” I stood their berating myself. The door was locked! My self-proclaimed ninja skills placed my wallet and phone under the seat. However, my lack of attention to every detail left the keys in the ignition!
My eyes went back to their search. “Now what? Options? Maybe I should just get a good sized rock and put it through a window…yeah, that’ll do it…and maybe next time I won’t be so stupid.” Well, perhaps not. So into the “seedy” little store I walked.
There I met a line of people 20 strong. Most presented themselves as the cigarette-dangling-from-the-corner-of-the-mouth crowd members. About half were dressed in pajama bottoms and sweatshirts. There were a few of the “pants on the ground, pants on the ground, acting like a fool with your pants on the ground” crowd members. No doubt my profile meter instantly engaged.
My turn at the cash register finally arrived. Sheepishly I asked, “What are the chances you might have an old fashioned wire coat hanger I could use to get into my locked car?’ The lady smiled…broadly and knowingly. She answered, “Sorry.” I nodded my head affirmatively and began to walk out.
A lady who appeared to be about 30 years old said, “I think I might have one in my car. If not, I only live about a block away. I know I have one there. Let me check the car. If I don’t have one, just let me pump my five dollars into my car and I will drive home and bring one back.”
I said thank-you and asked, “What about a screw driver? It will give me a little leverage to create a gap so I can get the wire past the door.”
She replied, “I’ll check. I know I have one at my house.” And away she started to go.
As she was leaving, another lady, about the same age, said, “I know I do not have a screw driver, but I have the coat hanger.” Both the first lady and the second were dressed in the pajama bottom theme. Both appeared down on their luck. Yet both smiled. Both were sincere.
There in a moment we had a team and a plan. The first lady would retrieve a screw driver from her home, the second lady would supply the coat hanger, I would regret some of my initial feelings and attempt to open my car door.
Little did I know the resources would increase, the plan would be renegotiated, and I would be delighted. I went out to the car. From across the parking lot the second lady used hand signals to let me know she would drive her car to mine. She rolled up in a 25 to 30-year-old SUV. She got out. So did her husband/boyfriend. He completely fit the evening’s gas station theme. He was also using a pair of vise-grips to bend the wire coat hanger into a tool.
I expressed my thanks once again. He said, “No problem. Let me have a crack at it.”
He handed me the vise-grips. There was an instant moment of tactical recognition. I used the handle of the vise-grips to leverage the door and he slipped the hanger in.
One attempt. Two. Three. Four. It just wasn’t working. The lady continued to smile, offer encouragement, and help her man and I not fall into that frustration we guys sometimes allow to erupt when our mini-heroism is met with situational failure. He tried again. And again. Still…nothing.
Another fella walked up. Arms covered with tattoos, emaciated with that you-know-what appearance, but smiling, he fell into natural conversation with the others, “Locked out, huh? Toyota, huh? Anyone have a Ford key? Sometimes if you jiggle them in a Toyota it will work.”
The lady said, “Ha, we still have our old Ford key on our key ring, let’s give it a try.”
Jiggle, jiggle…the lock button moved…but didn’t pop up. Another try. No success.
The newcomer said, “Well, almost.” With his smile bigger than ever, he backed up…but stayed engaged, added to the conversation, and joined the lady in offering encouragement.
A moment or two later the first lady drove back up. She got out of her old car, smiled, and said, “Still at it, huh? Well will the screw driver help?”
Then another car drove up. Another lady got out. The first lady (keeping up?) said, “Oh this is my best friend. I called her. She came to help too.”
Again, I offered another round of thanks. The fella with the coat hanger and I attacked with new determination. The screw driver allowed me to open a wide space. In went the coat hanger and boom-shacka-laka the door was unlocked.
The small crowd erupted with a cheer.
The second man said, “Seriously, I just stopped to help, but as long as we’re all here, does anyone have a smoke I can borrow?” The man and wife/girlfriend both reached in their pockets for their cigarette packs. In an instant, cigarettes were presented to the man who asked. With a nod of appreciation, he accepted.
I said thank you once again to everyone. “Hey, we’ve all been there was the common reply.” I then asked, “Can I do anything to repay your kindness? Can I buy anyone gas for their car? Who wants a Coke or something? Anything?”
“Not a chance,”
“Hey everyone has needs from time to time, don’t worry about it,”
softly fell from their lips.
I was blessed.
I was humbled.
I was grateful…for each of them…for God.
So, as everyone started to end the impromptu fellowship group, I offered, “Well thank you again. Seriously, thank you and God bless you.”
One of the ladies said, “He’s why we do it.”
And we the strangers, no longer strangers, went our separate ways.
The Holy Spirit whispered with illumination, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:17).