What good could possibly come from getting a flat tire?
Friday night I was on my way home when I ran over something. While never expected, flat tires are nearly inevitable in west Texas. You’ve got the potholes, of course. Weather extremes and big, heavy trucks will do that. Then you have the road debris. Lady Bird Johnson, pioneer of Keep America Beautiful, must roll over in her grave over the trash along the roads of her home state. But the biggest problem from my tires’ perspective is the trash that comes off of other tires. For some reason, companies think they are saving money by running retreads that separate in 80-110 degree heat. Especially after running on lease roads where “gravel” is a luxury. Then there are the thousands of pickup trucks that also work in the oil and gas fields, collecting mesquite thorns, rock splits, etc. And when a tire blows, no one ever picks up the pieces of rubber and tangled steel. I’m always on the lookout, but I never saw this one coming.
I was in the left lane of a divided highway when I heard a thump. There was traffic in the right lane, so I couldn’t get over. I signaled to move to the left shoulder, and a paved cross-over came into view. Hurray! Easing to a stop, I put the car in park and opened the door.
Hssssssss. Not a good sign. The tire flattened in less than a minute as I watched. So much for the weekend, I thought.
My husband has been staying about 140 miles away while working on new pipeline construction. The plan had been for me to leave Friday night or early Saturday to see him. And take him a few needful things like his medication. But now those plans were in jeopardy, and he might have to make the 280 mile round trip on Sunday.
I climbed back in the car to call for help. This is a new car to get me to and from my new job. The odometer showed 3601 miles. This roadside assistance program is new to me, too. As I waded through the phone tree, a car pulled up along side. I rolled my window down as he did.
“Need some help?”
“Flat tire. Very flat,” I nodded to the rear tire on my side.
“I’d be happy to help change it.”
Now, I have no explanation for my response. The guy was somewhere between late forties to early sixties, in his work uniform that wasn’t dirty or greasy or anything. His car was similar in type to my own and a recent model. But I hesitated.
“Well, I was on the phone with roadside assistance when you pulled up.”
“We’ll be done by the time they get here.”
Still I hesitated. Was I that stubborn, that I wanted to see what roadside would do? I called my husband and told him the situation.
“Is the guy still there? Hell yeah, let him help and then get out of there!”
So we pulled out the requisite donut spare, and he got to work. I was grateful, for while I’ve changed a tire before — and watched many more times — the tools were clever in their multi-use capabilities, and it would’ve taken me a while to figure them out. (Yes, I have a manual. At home, where it does a lot of good.) Plus, lug nuts always need a lot of strength to get loose.
As he worked, he told me that his wife had had a flat on her new car not long ago. When he saw me, all he could think of was her on the side of the road. Her car was nearly new, too. We chatted a bit more, and the tire was quickly changed out, the tools stowed away, and the bad tire in the back of my SUV. I waved as he headed out and I redialed roadside assistance to cancel the call. They didn’t even have an estimated time of arrival yet!
Saturday morning I discovered that, not only was the hole in the tread too big to fix — about the size of a screw driver or steel belt(!) — that particular OEM tire by a major US brand is special order only. To quote Charlie Brown, “Arrgh!” I finally headed out of town at 3:30 pm Saturday for a short but nice weekend.
The 2-1/2 hour drive back home Sunday gave me lots of time to think. Why did I have a flat at that particular time and place? Was there a reason to mess up my weekend plans? Maybe there was going to be a wreck that I needed to avoid.
And why did I hesitate to accept help? I didn’t feel afraid, or threatened. My gut didn’t say a word. In fact, I was rather calm. I’m not one to be shy when I’m in over my head; I really have no explanation.
And why did the guy stay to help, even when I initially brushed him off?
That’s when the 2X4 hit me in the forehead. Maybe this wasn’t about me at all. (Fancy that.) Maybe this was about the man who stopped.
I considered: My brush-off was pretty obvious, yet he waited patiently while I dithered. Most would have written me off as crazy and left. He talked little except about thinking of his wife and her car. Granted, I probably talked too much, but still. And I’m ashamed to say that, if I got his name, I don’t remember it.
Perhaps he needed to help someone, and I was the recipient. I pondered the possibilities, even googled “woman killed after flat tire” after I got home. I don’t know why he felt he had to stop and help me, but he did. And that’s more than OK.
I don’t believe in coincidence, but rather providence. Not that God moves us around like chess pieces, or punishes or rewards people willy-nilly. I believe he uses us in our interactions with one another, letting us live the consequences of our choices in order to teach us.
I could have taken my usual way home, but I didn’t. And I had a flat. My tire changer could have taken a different route, or not stopped at all like the many others who passed by. But he did. He had the satisfaction of helping someone out, and whatever else was going on in his life. I was the reluctant recipient of his gracious help, and nearly missed it altogether. And got a lesson in humility.
How often am I so involved in my own self-centered world, that I miss the chance to help someone? Or so determined to be self-sufficient, that I deny someone the gift of giving to me?
I tend to secretly pride myself on being open to God’s Spirit moving in unexpected ways, places and people. This weekend I received a serving of humble pie that was most richly deserved. What about you? Are you immersed in your own circumscribed world or in tune with the universe, open to the unexpected connections waiting for you whether or not you ever learn the answer to Why?