By Leonard Adame
A couple of things happened recently that made me think about Christmas much more than usual. My son’s car broke down at a gas station. It’s an electrical problem. Sometimes the car runs like new, and at others, kicks and stalls like a spoiled kid or dies while driving. Maddening either way. So far, three mechanics have tried to fix the possessed (as my daughter says) machine. She’s in favor of selling it for scrap. Still, the problem persists.
Well, at the gas station, as we jiggled wires under the hood hoping for a miracle because neither my son or I knew diddly about a car’s electrical system, a man, Black, mild-mannered, polite, intelligent and concern in his eyes, came up from behind us. I didn’t hear him approach nor had I seen him when we pulled in for gas. Suddenly, he was just there in the chilling dusk. He soft-spokenly asked whether the problem was electrical. I turned to him and asked if he was a mechanic. To our surprise, he said yes, but that he was out of work at the moment.
At this point, desperate for answers, we decided to trust a stranger. He said let’s push the car out of the way, toward the side of the gas station. We did. Then I opened the hood again and said, it’s all yours. He immediately removed a relay switch cover and tested each switch. As he did, he said the Lord provides and that every day he is blessed because he’s able to survive. As he worked, he kept thanking the Lord for yet more blessings, such as the gas station owner having donated some gas to him so he could look for work. Or that he still had his health and just living meant he was blessed.
At this point, I started thinking about Christmas, the time of miracles, as my mother used to say. I mean, a man appears out of nowhere and starts fixing my son’s possessed car. He was sure as a surgeon as he finessed tools and switches and wires, being sure not break anything. He told us the battery cables were corroded, so he produced two used but good cables, cut the excess length off, attached them to the clamps he just happened to have and reconnected them to the battery. He said turn the key. No dice. He said not to worry because he trusted in the Lord.
He needed more tools, so he ran over to his old RV parked next door to the gas station/mini mart. He came back with a minimalist toolbox. During this time, we talked about car problems, their computers and about he essentially was nearly homeless.
As he told me his story, how he sweeps lots for businesses, becomes a security guard during the cold nights and sometimes does some mechanic work for people who break down on the road—or in gas stations, he called me sir, which made me feel my age. He was in his late 40s, I guessed, still strong, sure, still perceptive.
I asked what he would charge. He said just some gas money. I said, deal! After about two hours of removing switches, testing them, cleaning them and replacing them, he said turn the key. Lo and behold (I truly felt this was a miracle requiring phrases of biblical proportion), the possessed car started.
I gladly paid and thanked him. He said no, thank you. Now I got enough to go look for a job. He gave me his phone number just in case, he said.
About a week later, I was filling (at another station) my pickup, which thankfully was not yet possessed. Just as I returned the nozzle to its holder, there suddenly appeared a man holding a sheaf of papers. He politely asked if he could interest me in poems he had written and was selling for three bucks each. I said sure, I’d look at a couple. One poem in particular struck me, “Walk With Me.” He too was soft spoken, intelligent, articulate and possessed of a strong dignity. He too said he trusted in the Lord and that so far he’d been blessed by earning enough each to afford a $40 room.
I asked what he thought of Christmas. He said he loved that time. I said, but you have no tree or kids running around opening presents. He said he was blessed just being alive each day (sound familiar?) and that he celebrated Christmas in his own way. I bought the poem, and he said thanks. I then told him I had been an English instructor and taught classes in creative writing. He said he felt bad that he doesn’t read much poetry. I said it didn’t matter. If you put down things clearly and sincerely, you were doing good.
Having met these two kind gentlemen has affected me, to the point that I’ve been thinking about their professed belief in the Lord and about their optimism in the face of their poverty. Their faith has struck me, has made me rethink my views on belief and the human condition. These two men, who were genuinely kind and who had little or nothing materially, but who had great inner strength, made me think of the faith of my grandmothers and how nothing could destroy it.
I thank them. Their gift of spirituality will remain with me.
Here is Larry Rodgers poem:
Walk With Me
I am ushering into another day
Untouched and freshly new
And here I come to ask you God
If you’ll renew me too.
Forgive me for the many errors
That I made yesterday
And help me dear Lord
Walk closer in thy way
Well Lord I am well aware
That I can’t make it on my own
So take my hand and hold it tight
For I can’t walk alone
Merry Christmas. It is the time of miracles.
Leonard Adame has retired from teaching college English. He now plays drums in various bands, takes photographs, reads mystery novels to a fault and has published poetry in college anthologies. He most enjoys re-learning about human beings from his grandkids. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.