At 6:15am, it was still cold and dark as the Burger King employee and I stood staring at the smoke coming off my engine, and it made me more than a little uncomfortable that he was holding his lighter so close to the hissing radiator hose that necessitated my pulling off the highway 2 hours shy of my destination. I also found it strange that this man, after I made a joke about not having any duct tape, commented, “Sometimes, this might be God’s way of telling us to kinda hold on for a minute and take a step back.” Quite strange, I thought, for a man who just happened upon me as he took leave from making biscuits to come outside for a pre-dawn smoke break…..or was it?
An hour and a half later, and an hour from home—and long after I had given up hope of making my 8am meeting—but still with many other things to do that day, I was sitting in the smoky office of a towing and auto repair shop—no waiting area, as this was not the type of place where repairs are done while you wait—in an old chair they cleaned off for me to sit in while they called around to find a new hose that would fit my vehicle. I can’t imagine that I appeared approachable as I sat there in my starched white shirt, woolen sport coat, snazzy tie, and polished shoes, surrounded by men who find it unnecessary to bathe regularly since you’re just gonna get filthy the next day, anway; but after they figured out I wasn’t going to be a horse’s rear (“How long am I going to have to sit here?”), the office manager actually apologized to me that he hadn’t shaved that day. And as it went, within a few minutes of conversation, I learned that he had actually recently lost 100 pounds, enjoyed singing, and had just gotten married. Interesting how quickly we can connect when we “kinda hold on for a minute and take a step back,” isn’t it?
Back home, the next day I got up and went to the funeral service of a friend who had taken his own life. This was a man loved by many, known for his booming laugh, his laid-back, caring attitude, and his ability to take things in stride—not the type of man anyone would’ve placed on a watch list to commit such an act. I, and many others, sat, devastated, as we watched the outpouring of grief from his family as they said their last goodbyes. Nothing makes you “kinda hold on for a minute and take a step back” like a funeral. Afterwards, as a benediction, we all went outside and released balloons in memoriam to the man we knew. It was a sunny, albeit breezy day, and a great many of the balloons got delayed in the trees outside the church as they made their way upward, which elicited no small amount of giggling at this solemn occasion. We all knew the man we were honoring would have approved, and as we chuckled at the irony of symbolically releasing him to the heavens and him getting caught in a tree, I couldn’t help but think he was laughing harder than any of us.
Later, my wife, in-laws, and I attended an art awards ceremony where my middle son received “Gold Key” and “Silver Key” awards in a regional scholastic art competition. Chosen along with 70 others from a field of over 700 entries, we were already proud of his artistic accomplishments, but even more so as the crowd oohed and aahed when his scratchboard rendering of his girlfriend’s dog was displayed on the big screen in the auditorium. I find that “taking a step back” and watching the smile on my kids’ faces at just such a time is one of my greatest joys as a dad.
Being forced to “hold on for a minute and take a step back” resulted in me pondering and appreciating a great many things I may have otherwise missed this past weekend. Who knew radiator hoses, helium balloons, and scratchboard dogs carried so much meaning?