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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Dirty Hands, Clean Soul

My community is serviced by two train stations, one of which has more frequent trains because it services a larger population than the other. My house is closer to the smaller one with less frequent trains. Generally speaking I catch the 4:00 train out of Penn and walk home from the smaller station, but if I'm in a rush I'll forego my usual walk and catch the 3:27 train - that is, if I can get to Penn in time. If I miss that train, I’ll take the next train, which is an express to the larger station. So it happened one day that I missed my train to Carle Place and ended up on the express to Westbury.

    I miss-judged the doors; I was about mid-train and thought I picked a car that would line up with the steps near the middle of the platform where I wanted to be so I could cross under the tracks through the tunnel and start my walk home, but I ended up way off from what I was targeting. It turns out that I needed to be near the back end of the train to get off at the middle of the platform. Oh, well. I find myself right at the wheelchair access ramp, but just can’t accept walking away from where I want to be only to turn around and walk the same distance in the opposite direction, so I walk past the ramp to the stairs. I must be the only person on the train that didn’t know how far east the train would stop because I was the last one to the stairs.

    At the bottom of the stairs is a lady wearing a dark trench coat and a lace-brimmed hat, holding what looked like a prayer book. We’ve all seen them at train stations and malls, right? Or perhaps walking down your street, knocking on doors and offering salvation if you only lend an ear. Everyone walked past her eager to be on their way home. As did I; I put my hand up as she opened her mouth and I said “No thank you” as I hurried on my way. In truth, I admire these people to a certain degree. Yes, their faith is different than mine, but it can’t be easy to put yourself out in the world like that and talk of God. And it seems to me that they are taking their religion a little more seriously perhaps than I am; at least with regard to the apostolic mission. Nonetheless, I didn’t have time for this, and I quickly rushed past her.

It took a moment to process, but her facial expression was not consistent with what I expected to see from her. It looked like she had a lot more emotionally invested in the outcome of her ill-fated attempt to speak with me. It seemed to me like I was her last chance. At what – I didn’t know. What could it possibly be? I’ve spoken to these people before, I’m not going to change my religion and they don’t have quotas. At least I don’t think they do.

If in the reading of this blog, you should happen to think something along the lines that ‘this guy is pretty full of himself, with all these observations…’ please let me assure you that this is most certainly not the case. Even if it was to some degree, the good Lord hits me on the rear sometimes with the wooden spoon of humility to keep me in line. I don’t picture Him as an old Italian mother, but He did give them to us and He sure can assume the role if He wants to. It took about four or five steps for the whole thing to sink in. I continued on my way, but I turned around to see her walking slowly back to her car, shoulders slumped and looking at the ground as she started to make her way back.  I stopped:

“I’m sorry – I thought you were selling something. I didn’t give you a chance to speak.” I start back to her. She turns around, tears forming in her eyes:

“I have a flat, and I’m late for a meeting. I just wanted to borrow a phone to make a call.”

I’m an idiot. WHACK! <--- That’s the wooden spoon of humility making contact. Ouch.

“Well, I have a phone.”

Gently, she makes her request: “Do you mind if I make a call?” Hope returning to her face.

I see my mother in this woman, now. (WHACK!)

“Not at all, but who are you going to call?”

“Triple A.”

This problem of hers is within my skill set. There is no decision to be made here; in this moment I am committed to what course of action must be taken.

“It’ll take an hour at least, by time they get here, for you to be on your way – do you have a spare?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, let’s take a look…….”

She leads me to her car and opens her trunk: “I don’t think I do….”

“Not so fast ……” I say with a smile. I reach in, shift a few things around and remove what must look to her like a mysterious secret panel, to reveal her spare tire. It’s in good shape. “O.K. I can just go ahead change the tire for you. If you don’t mind, I would like to do that.”

Clutching her prayer book, she says “Oh, thank you!”

I take my jacket off, roll up my sleeves and get to work.

“I was praying to God for help, but it looked like He wasn’t going to answer me.”

I have an opportunity to say something healing here, so I speak from my heart and my faith:

“He always answers our prayers, mam. He always answers our prayers.”

Thinking of my own prayer experiences I continue:

“It’s not always the answer we want, but I know that He’s always listening and I can say that He most certainly loves you.” I stop and look her in the eye on that last part. I feel like I'm talking to my own mother now.

“I was afraid I would miss my prayer group. I told Him ‘If you want me to make this prayer group, I need help.’”

Of course she was going to a prayer group meeting.

“Well, I’m happy to be His instrument to help get you there.”

In short order her flat tire is in her trunk, her spare tire is securely where it needs to be and her jack is neatly back in place.

“Now this is only a ‘doughnut,’ It’ll get you where you’re going but you’re going to have to have that flat fixed, because this is not intended replace a real tire.”

“O.K. I will.”

“You can’t go over 50 miles an hour with this tire, so you have to drive slowly.” (I can't picture her driving over 25 miles an hour, but I felt I had to say that.)

“I will.” She has money in her hand.

“I can’t accept money from you…….”

“But I want to thank you.”

“You already did. But if you get to your prayer meeting safely, and maybe remember me in your prayers, then I’ll feel like I got the better end of the deal.”

She promised that she would, and she gave me a big hug. I got a hug in a train station parking lot from a nice old Church lady, who thanked God for me and who was going to say a prayer for me. I can't remember why I was in such a rush that day, but I think I will always remember that hug. It’s funny; I was afraid that she was going to try to sell me some religion! Well, I guess she did - I guess I did get some religion from her. I know that I walked away with dirty hands and yes, I was late in getting home, but I feel as though I walked away with much a cleaner soul.

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