Somehow, getting a flat tire in a church parking lot seems wrong. After all, the hour spent in church could have been used to get a head start to the beach. With friends enjoying a champagne brunch. Or sleeping in and perusing the Sunday paper over a soy latte. But no, 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.
But be it God or serendipity, I had faith that 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 replies 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. "What's up with that?" he asked.
I'm asked this frequently when people see me write. I guess from their perspective the angle must look 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."
He looked at me with interest anew then 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 good 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. Decades 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, okay then good, see You later," type of thing. Imagine my surprise when four years later I'm still attending faithfully, every Sunday. Come rain or shine, or flat tire.
"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 walk out the door. 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. "You know what? Maybe I'll see you there sometime, Sunshine."
And 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, help someone back on it.