Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
August 3rd, 2003

Flat Tire

Service Call on the Road of Faith

 
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Somehow, getting a flat tire in a church parking lot seems wrong. After all, I could have used that hour to get a head start to the beach. Joined friends for champagne brunch. Slept in and perused the Sunday paper over a soy latte . But nooo, I went to church.

And promptly parked on a nail. Obviously the Big Fella doesn’t play favorites, a fact that agnostics should find somewhat comforting.

To the shop, do not pass Go
But be it God or serendipity, I believed my flat tire occurred for a reason. Obviously I was not meant to be on the road at that particular time. So only somewhat grudgingly I steered my limping Toyota in the direction of the nearest auto shop, which I recalled had recently advertised their new Sunday hours.

At the desk a surly manager acknowledged me, clearly not happy about his new weekend schedule. Great. Not only was I stuck with the inconvenience of a flat tire, but I was also burdened with someone clearly nursing an attitude. I bit my lip and refrained from spouting one of several sarcastic retorts dancing about in my head.

Wordlessly he slid some paperwork for me to sign. As usual, I shifted the document towards the left. Although right-handed, I write like a leftie and will change the direction of the paper to accommodate my script. This caught his attention.

“Wassup with that?” he asked.

I’m asked this frequently when people see me write. I guess from their perspective my handwriting must appear unusual. There’s a reason why I write this way and I usually don’t mind explaining. But this guy rubbed me wrong and I wasn’t about to regale him with the tale. Instead, he got the unvarnished version.

“I taught myself to write like this because it pissed off the nuns.”

The magic words
He looked at me with

interest anew and slapped the counter, laughing. “Oh boy, Catholic school,” he proclaimed! “I went to Saint Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery. I was an altar boy for four years. Could I tell you stories!”

And with that he started musing over rapped knuckles, pulled ears, frequent scoldings, and Father John. “He kept me out of trouble, he did,” he recalled, shaking his head. “I was an original Bowery boy. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the Father.” Then he went back to check on my car, but not before calling out, “You’re my kinda gal!”

From then on he called me “Sunshine.” Asked what I did for a living, told me about his wife and kids. We both confessed that in our teens we rebelled against organized religion. “I don’t do the church thing anymore,” he proclaimed in his heavy New York accent. “I’m fine without it.” But he said this somewhat wistfully and it was obvious he had fond memories of his Catholic upbringing.

I could relate. Years passed before I felt the quiet urge to return to church. When I found a modest little non-denominational church in my neighborhood, my intention was to make just the occasional visit. A little, “Hey God, it’s me. How You doing, good? Okay then see You later,” type deal.

Imagine my surprise when three years later I’m still attending faithfully, every Sunday. Come rain or shine, or flat tire.

The road of faith
“Sunshine, your car’s ready. I even changed the oil for you,” my once-surly attendant now beamed. “You have a great day.”

I thanked him and was ready to leave, but then I stopped and turned around. Somewhat hesitantly I invited him to attend my church sometime. He recognized the name.

“I know the exact place you’re talkin’ about.” And then he grinned. “Maybe I’ll see you there sometime, Sunshine.”

Suddenly I felt much better about that flat tire. It occurred to me, perhaps the objective hadn’t been to keep me off the road, but instead, to help someone else back on it.

 
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The Author : Eileen Mitchell
Eileen Mitchell writes from Northern California.
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