Today I am especially glad to be alive. This renewed feeling of gratitude comes in the wake of a recent, very scary, personal experience. One day, over a week ago, I took my “little car” in for normal service and new tires. No big deal, right? While they had my car, I borrowed a loaner from the car place (and, as a side note, I fell in love with it) but nothing was unusual up to this point.
Once I had picked my car up, and paid for the (ouch!) expensive tires, I thought that the painful and scary part was over ... but little did I know it was just beginning! Happy to be back in my favorite car, I traveled along the highway, headed for a work related meeting. I smiled as I sang along to some of my favorite music, playing loudly, while also enjoying the fresh cushy feeling of riding on new tires.
I mused to myself about this rare treat of driving alone, all dressed up for work, thinking my own thoughts, as my car hummed along on the highway. It's not often (enough) that I get to be in a car -- or anywhere -- without choruses of voices exclaiming how hot or cold they are, how tired or hungry they feel, or asking “are we there yet?”! So, however rare it is, it always feels like a teeny tiny vacation for me in my teeny tiny car!
And then IT happened ... I was jolted suddenly from my little holiday when I heard a loud BOOM coming from the back end of my car! I quickly glanced into my rear-view mirror and, for a moment, I thought the car that was traveling unusually close behind me had hit the back of my car. But realizing we were on the highway I knew that couldn't have happened without an instant disastrous result, so I ruled that out. And honestly, I didn't have any more time to consider that as a possibility because, immediately following the BOOM, my car began to shake uncontrollably and then made a very loud and long shrill noise. It was SO loud that I could hear it over my music which, up to this point, I hadn't been able to safely free up a hand to turn off. Immediately following the newest indicator of severe malfunction, my car had gone from a little zippy sporty car to a sloppy jalopy unfit for any road, let alone a busy highway! I knew in that second, I was in severe danger.
At the moment, I was still traveling in the left lane of a jam-packed highway. But due to these strange and rapidly progressing car troubles I knew that somehow, someway, I had to pull over -- and NOW! By some miracle, I looked into my mirrors and saw that there was a tiny opening in the right lane and, without a second of hesitation, I took the opening. Limping in my jalopy I went from the left lane, briefly into the right lane, and then came to a screeching halt along the very narrow shoulder of the highway!
I actually sat and did nothing else but shake for the next 2-3 minutes ... I felt physically and emotionally drained, and although I didn't know what had happened, I knew I needed to take a breath or two and collect myself.
When I finally could think a rational thought again, I carefully got out of my car, between the constant stream of tractor trailer trucks bolting past at rapid speeds -- just inches from the edge of my car -- to look at my car tires to see if they were still intact. I thought I had blown a tire, although I rationalized that that made no sense, since I had just had new tires put on. And once I did a visual inspection I realized that all four tires looked perfect and there were no other signs of damage that I could see, to any part of my car.
Because it felt safest, even though it was so very close to the edge of the road, I climbed back into my car to figure out what the heck to do next! I picked up my phone and called a friend of mine, who is a car repair expert, and actually I'd venture to say, he's my hero when it comes to all car related questions and problems! I tried to describe to him what I had just experienced. He first asked me where I was and I told him that I was sitting in the passenger seat of my car because it was SO close to the highway, and because I didn't feel safe getting out and standing along the highway -- in heels no less!
He advised me to try to move my car further off the road. Thinking that was pretty reasonable and because I was still in partial disbelief that my car had so quickly been rendered inoperable, I thought I'd give it a shot -- for safety reasons AND to prove to myself that I hadn't imagined what had just occurred.
I started my car and once I began to roll (I hadn't even pressed the gas pedal yet) the jalopy sounds -- the booms and screeches -- resumed in accelerated proportions and I knew there was NO way that car was going ANYWHERE on its own four tires! I relayed the message to my friend and he offered to call me a tow truck (No, I do not have AAA). I thanked him, hung up, and sat and waited.
I can't say I've been stranded along the road, at lease not since my teen and early adult years when I drove older cars that seemed to “leave me sit” often. My parents also routinely drove older cars that did the same and I think that, coupled with my own early driving experiences, is what made me decide to buy only gently used or new vehicles. I figured if I took care of them and had them serviced regularly then I could avoid these types of inconvenient and dangerous mishaps. “So much for that,” I thought to myself.
While pondering all that had just happened, I sat ... and I sat ... and I sat ... waiting, feeling helpless and alone; but alive. So, to me, all was well. Finally, a big rugged “manly” tow truck pulled in along the edge of the road, ahead of me. My first thought? “Oh man, my boys would LOVE this!”
Ha, then I laughed to myself -- funny how a mom's life experiences are never only hers again -- everything moms go through from the time our first baby is born, we forever live through the eyes of our kids. I'm along the side of the road with my safety threatened, my entire day thrown off, and I wish my boys were here to watch my car being loaded onto a huge flatbed truck; such a mom.
I was popped out of my deep thoughts by a grisly man standing outside my passenger car door. On a normal day, I -- along with most women nowadays -- would not have opened a car door to speak with any man I didn't know, especially one who looked like THAT, but today, that same dirty, car grease stained man with rough hands, dirty clothes, and greasy hair was instantly my savior, so I willingly opened my door, thanked him profusely, and followed him to the passenger side of his big old tow truck!
He opened the door and, in heels, I struggled into the passenger’s seat amongst the deeply embedded grease, grime, and paper trash littered cabin. And there I waited, unwilling to watch while my “baby” was loaded up onto his truck. Finally, he reappeared and as he started the engine, I gave him the location of the nearest dealership -- that I had Googled while waiting for him. I will admit; it felt awkward and extremely scary to be riding in an unfamiliar vehicle with a complete stranger.
As we traveled together in the large slow, bumpy, tow truck, we discussed the plan: He offered to drop me at the closest rental car location on his way to my car’s repair location and immediately began to type buttons into his GPS unit in order to find one for me. When he located one he asked me if that particular place was okay. I appreciated his assistance and approved it because I hadn't yet found one using my phone, whose battery was quickly diminishing from overuse due to the events of the day.
When I mentioned my phone’s condition, the man willingly removed his phone from his charger and offered the spot for me to plug mine in. I was so grateful as my phone has always been my lifeline and had really proven that to me today.
As we pulled into the car rental place, I hopped out (well down, it was a long jump to the ground) and went inside while he wrote up my towing bill. He also offered to wait to make sure a car was available for me before he left me behind. How kind!
Once the bill was complete, Mr. Tow Truck Driver found me inside where I stood, still waiting in line. I paid my bill and noticed that he continued to linger, stating once again that he wanted to make sure that a car was available before he left me. It was in this moment, following so many kind deeds, that I really began to see the man who stood greasy, worn, and dirty in front of me, in an all new light. Despite his appearance, he was a very kind, helpful and respectful soul, and had gone so very far above and beyond the call of duty of a tow truck driver. Extreme gratefulness washed over me as I was reminded yet again of the lesson I've learned in recent years to not “judge a book by its cover.” I had been quick to judge too many times over the years -- and much more often in recent years. And I've had far too many experiences where I have been the book.
At times, we might all say we feel justified in being the judge -- stating our opinions of others loudly, but until it's our turn to be the book, in the hands of a judge who is unwilling to “read” us, yet states our “contents” falsely, we often don't understand what hurtful damage an uninformed judge can do! I have learned that I prefer to be neither the judge nor the book, but that I can only control the former and I have actively chosen to do so replacing my judgment of others with understanding and respect.
Because of my many recent life experiences in “being the book,” I've sought to impress upon my kids the importance of this lesson -- the importance of seeing more than physical attributes of those around them. Appearance is obvious, but the qualities of a person are what matter most and often you have to “read” and engage a person to find them. If my kids and I can learn to see through to the very heart of those around us, we will more successfully be able to live empathetic, harmonious and fulfilling lives versus opinionated, angry and finger pointing existences.
Finally! I had reached the front of the line and discovered that the rental place had one last car available and once my new friend, Mr. Tow Truck Driver -- in a move that I now considered typical of him -- confirmed the vehicle was physically present on the lot, I thanked him immensely and he returned to his truck and drove away with my car on board.
I don't recall a time when I was THIS thankful for a car that ran smoothly and properly, so I didn't even bat an eye at the tiny, tinier than MY tiny car, two-seater Fiat that I drove away in. It got me home -- safely, happily, and with a renewed sense of gratefulness for my life and an overwhelming thankfulness for the kindness of strangers!
Have you ever been touched by the kindness of strangers?