Tuesday, March 30, 2010

You Gotta Have Faith

Over the last little while I've done my fair share of whining about how hard the world is. I've blubbered about my computer breaking down, my car breaking, getting a speeding ticket and so forth, and having all those things happen one after another after another.

Then, this morning, I go out to my car, load all the kids in, and start for school. Halfway down the street, I realize that something is not right. The car seems to be driving strangely, or maybe the road is extra rough. I pull over, hop out and look, and my rear tire has gone flat on me. I got in the car and drove away without even noticing it.

It's times like these, with everything else dog-piling on, when I feel like I have to raise my fist and shout, "I defy you stars," because it seems as though the stars are all aligned, and they are aligned against me. Can there really possibly be another thing? At a certain point it starts to feel like the world just wants to mercilessly crush any spirit or life out of me.

Well, I got out of my car, and got into the trunk. A few years ago, my wife's parents gave us a portable air compressor. I hooked it up to my tire and started it up. It takes a while, but with the help of this device, I'd be able to get to the tire shop without needing a tow.

While I'm standing there, waiting for my tire to pump up, cars are passing me left and right. I'm at the entrance point to my neighborhood, and school starts in about five minutes, so a lot of people are running their kids to class. I'm hoping I can still manage to get them there reasonably close to on time and then maybe...well, no, it's not likely that I'll make it to work on time, but they'll be understanding I'm sure, so I'm not too worried. I'm mostly focused on the whole one-thing-after-another that my life is like right now.

Suddenly, one of those cars that is rushing past me taking kids to school stops. The woman inside, who I don't know, asks, "Do you need some help?"

I'll be mobile again in a few minutes, and I don't think that a woman with a mini-van full of kids is really likely to be able to do anything for me, so I say, "Thanks, but I think I'll be alright."

"Do you want me to take your kids to school for you?"

I hadn't considered this. Usually, I'm as paranoid as can be about letting my kids anywhere near strangers, and even people I know for that matter. It's hard to have kids in a world where no one can be trusted and your neighbor might be a complete psycho, but I do my best to protect them. But this is a woman in a car that is literally spilling over with kids (no not literally, that's not right. I hate when people do that, "I was so embarrassed I died, literally!" So, you're saying you literally died? Do you know what literally means? What's the word I want, figuratively maybe? Just pretend I didn't say literally at all. Anyway, aside over) This woman is in a car that is virtually spilling over with kids. I find it unlikely that she's the child murdering type. My son, while getting into the car, says hi to one of the other children, which eases my fears a little more. These kids, at least, are not strangers to him. And off my kids go to school.

I stand there for a few minutes longer, as the air compressor continues to fill my tire back up, and another person stops to ask if I need any help. I can't help but smile. It seemed to me that the days of stopping to help a stranger on the side of the road were gone, but apparently, human kindness and decency can transcend all the fears that are fed to us on a daily basis.

Once the tire is filled enough, I head to the tire shop. Inside, they tell me they'll get right on it and get me shipshape and seaworthy in no time. Hmm, maybe a bad metaphor, but you get the idea. I call into work and tell them I'll be late, and they are understanding, as I expected, but it's still nice.

After reading an article or two in old Sports Illustrated magazines (did you know the Saints won the NFC Championship? Who'd have ever thought that was possible?), the woman tells me my car is ready. She says, "We got your tire all fixed up. There was a nail in it, but the sidewall wasn't damaged." Then, out of a clear blue sky she says words I never thought I'd hear in a mechanic's shop. She doesn't say, "While we were changing your oil we noticed that your carburetor is shot, your radiator is completely rusted out, your brakes are going bad, your flux capacitor isn't fluxing, and your rack and pinion steering is out of fluid, all that's going to cost you around $2,500." That's what I usually get at the mechanic's shop, but today it was utterly different.

The woman hands me the key and says, "We won't charge you anything for it, just come and see us again next time you need something."

My mind is blown. I'm not sure how to respond, really. "Okay," I say weakly. Now, I realize that it's a bit of an advertisement or something. If they'd charged me, it would have only been something like $15, so they weren't going broke over it, and they've probably earned hundreds of dollars of business from me in the future. So it wasn't pure goodwill she was showing me, but after the time I've had recently, it felt like it. It was as if the clouds parted, and God winked at me and said, "I still love you; I was just joking with you before." Those stars that had aligned against me had been dashed aside, and my faith in the world, in people, in the universe in general had all been restored.

Things won't always be bad. Sometimes they'll be good, and other times they'll be bad. Sometimes it'll feel like more than I can handle, but it's not. And sometimes, I'll realize that, despite how sorry for myself I feel, it could be worse, and I should be grateful that it's not. Today I saw a news story about a family whose child died of swine flu last fall, and then, a month later, their house burned down. It puts my car troubles and computer troubles in a different perspective. What the hell does it matter that I lost some data from my hard drive compared to a person who lost a child. I am doing very well, because my kids and my wife are doing very well. That is something that really matters.

I'll talk a little more about some lessons I've learned in the last few days in a later post. I've already gone on too long. But know that I am happy and content. Life is good, and I'm happy to be living it.