On February 22, 2007, my home was severely damaged by an electrical fire. With the economic downturn and bank failures which followed later that year, became impossible for me to secure adequate funding necessary to repair my home in a timely manner. As a result, I had to pay for repairs in a piecemeal manner, from personal strategy sessions with clients who hire me to help them increase the likelihood of happiness in their lives.
And if the worry over funding my home reconstruction wasn’t enough, my used car’s transmission had been increasingly defiant, refusing to move from one gear to the next with the ease to which I had grown accustomed over the previous two years. After seeking the opinion of a several dealerships familiar with the make and model, I knew that it was only a matter of time before I would have a hefty bill for the replacement of what was refusing to be the self-repairing transmission. Six thousand dollars was what one dealership quoted. In a seeder part of town, Miguel and his father, proprietors of a little neighborhood shop next to the railroad tracks, said he could rebuild the dying transmission for a little less than three thousand dollars.
The time I spent each day worrying every time a gear slipped was inordinate, as if worrying about it would actually reverse the steady decline of its operation. No matter how much I thought about the transmission, it wasn’t going to change the course of needed repair. Eventually, I would be writing a check for the repairs on my single source of transportation. Whether it was six or three grand, every penny I was making was going into securing that I had a flushing toilet and electric lighting in my burned-out home.
The endless thoughts of my transmission woes followed me on one of my frequent trips to a nearby Home Depot for one repair part after next. Danny, my home repairman, and I drove – carefully – along a major thoroughfare, making certain I was positioned in the far right lane in case the car failed to move forward. I was coasting up to a stoplight hoping it would turn green before my car came to a full stop. When you aren’t sure if the car can move forward, stoplights are not your friend.
Out of my peripheral, I saw an elderly woman standing on the corner under the bus sign. I would not have paid much attention to her but something kept my attention on her every move. At first it was nothing more than a glance, but turned my attention to this well-dressed woman at the bus stop. It was getting dark. I didn’t see frequent buses running and I suspected that night vision was not her strong suit.
I pulled my beleaguered auto over to the curb, gently guided it into the parked position and asked Danny to keep an eye on the car while I saw if the woman needed help. Not wanting to frighten her, or insult her, I called out, “Excuse me miss, do you know if the bus is coming by soon?”
She turned away from her fixed focus on the road ahead and looked toward me.
“Oh, I don’t know, I certainly hope so,” she said with obvious distress in her voice.
“Have you been waiting here long?”
“Oh, yes, a very long time,” she replied.
It was Sunday and I suspected the bus was not running any longer. I could see the woman was chilled, the grocery bag she carried seemed heavy and there was no indication she would be boarding a city bus anytime soon.
“If you want, Miss, my friend Danny, and I have a car right over here, and I bet we are going in the direction close to your home.”
“Oh, that would be just wonderful,” she said with a sweet smile of relief.
I walked slowly with her back to my car. Danny slipped into the back seat and the woman gave a sigh of relief as she sat down and I closed her door. The woman reached in her purse and offered a couple of dollars to pay for the gas it would take to get her from Manchester and Sepulveda to Western and 54th, or, at least, she thought it was 54th, but it could be 45th, or somewhere in that general area.
“Alzheimer’s is trying to eat my brain,” she offered. “But I go to the casino and work on numbers. Watching the numbers on the machine keeps my mind sharp,” she explained.
“Do you have someone we should call, to let them know you are going to be home soon?” I asked, knowing there was a great many homes between 45th and 54th streets and it wasn’t the safest area in the city.
“I have a daughter in Lancaster,” she replied, “but no need to call her. I will be just fine.”
The car got quiet. Danny was observing the frail woman and her gentle hands holding her bag of groceries and her vintage handbag. She seemed quite relieved to be out of the cold, trusting out of necessity that she would make it home.
I began wondering what my life would be like in fifty years and if someone would stop and take me home if I got lost. It was then I realized, I wasn’t paying attention to the transmission any longer. There were bigger challenges faced by less fortunate individuals than myself.
The woman’s story unfolded. She had been a registered nurse for the better part of her life. During her career, she had discovered two vitamins that, she believed, if everyone took, they would “live a very long time.” Fruit Essence and Bone vitamins, she said. Well, unfortunately, neither of her favorite vitamins was being manufactured any more, but there was a store a bit further from her normal route of shopping that had something like it. She had gotten on the bus to track down that store and those essential supplements.
Somehow, she had gotten on the wrong bus. Nightfall arrived, and she found herself standing on a strange street corner, she said, praying for a nice lady to come to her aid.
“Are you’re sure I can’t give you a couple of dollars for gas?” she asked, again.
This time Danny interjected. “She won’t take your money, ma’am, but since your prayers seem to work pretty well, she sure could use a prayer that her house and car gets repaired.”
Without missing a beat, the woman bowed her head and took on the countenance of someone who knew exactly how to dial the direct line to the Almighty.
“Our God, you have told us that all we need is the faith of a mustard seed, Lord, and our needs will be met, Lord,” she began.
Her fragile hands moved like a skilled pastor addressing a full congregation, and her voice was filled with the conviction of someone who knew every word was being heard by a power greater than any human.
“This fine woman needs her home restored, Lord,” she continued. “She needs her home restored, Lord, so she can do your work, Lord.”
My mind drifted to the events this woman must have endured in her life which had created such a deep faith and direct line to the Powers that Be.
“We have the faith, Lord, now you do your work. Amen,” she concluded.
“Amen,” Danny and I repeated.
“Oh my, we are close now. I know where I am now,” she stated as she recognized some of the brightly painted buildings.
“Yes, we are very close, now. We are at 50th Street. It was very lucky we were headed in this very same direction, wasn’t it?” I asked.
“That’s Jesus,” she said, “I just prayed and asked that some nice lady would come my way and help me out. That was the Spirit that brought you to me,” she added.
On the way back to the safer side of town, I didn’t worry so much about the transmission or the needed repairs of my home. My problems were, in fact, relatively petty. I was not lost in a physical sense of the word, but maybe I had gotten a little lost in the superficial importance of earthly things. And, the woman with the faith of the mustard seed got me back on track. Imagine that, a frail woman at the bus stop with a bit of Alzheimer’s fixed my transmission problem.