Car trouble in Tuscaloosa

A few nights ago, something extraordinary happened to me at a gas station in downtown Tuscaloosa. That morning, I made a three hour road trip to meet up with a dear friend. We spent the whole day visiting and it was perfect. I began my trip back home around 10pm. Still riding high from the day’s events, my head was in the clouds and I didn’t notice that the car was low on fuel until the indicator light came on. I pulled into a gas station near the ramp to the interstate.

It was very cold and windy. My teeth were chattering as I began pumping fuel. When I looked up I saw an old haggard black man in a beanie slouching towards me. As he approached I tensed up and began preparing to tell this guy that I didn’t have any cash to give him. He stopped at the front of my car and was saying something to me. 

“Hey, you know your ??? is ??? and sparking?” The blowing wind made it difficult for me to hear him. I noticed that he had a few teeth missing as he spoke and that he had a thick dialect. I assumed he was drunk or on something.

“What’s up, man,” I said flatly.

“You know your car is sparking?”

“Really? No, I didn’t know that.” 

I was trying to piece together how this scam was going to go down. My eyes darted back and forth towards the convenience store and this man, seeing if anyone was there that I could shout out to if I felt even more uncomfortable than I already did. 

“Thanks for telling me. I’ll get it checked out,” I said. I hoped my dismissive demeanor would send him away.

“I can help you fix it right now!”

Panic. This guy isn’t going away.

“No, I’m good,” I assured him. “I can make it down the road to where I’m going.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, man. I’ll be alright. God will help me get home.”

This is something I would normally never say. I invoked God because I thought, perhaps, that I would get a different response from him. I made the assumption since he was an old black man that he was probably a religious guy and wouldn’t argue with that line.

“You waiting on God? God is right here! God is the messenger and the message is God. Pop your hood.”

Something about the determination in his voice made me decide to go along with what he was telling me. He wasn’t asking me to open the hood… he was telling me to. Like a father talking to his son. I finished pumping my gas and then popped the hood of my car. I had already scanned the area to make sure there were security cameras, just in case. 

“Now crank your engine.”

I did.

“OK. Put it in neutral. Now shut it off.”

He reached into the guts of my car and started pulling on things. 

“You see the gear shift moving?”

It was. After some jiggling it popped into drive. He fiddled with it some more and then called me over to look at what he was doing.

“See those?” He pointed to a tangle of wires. I had no idea what I was looking at or what it was supposed to look like. “They was melting!” 

“Really?”

He told me to restart my car. I was relieved when it cranked up like normal. Still unsure of what had just happened but ready to be on my way, I quickly thanked him and handed him a $10 bill I had in my pocket. 

“You ain’t gotta do that.”

I insisted.

He took the money. He smiled broadly as he looked me in the eyes.

“You say you was gonna wait on God. You know that story? Man is in a flood and waits for God to rescue him. When he dies God said, I done sent you a raft, a boat, a plane, what else you want?” 

Then he walks off and gets into the passenger side of a nice looking car. I watch and wave as someone who may have been his grand-daughter drives them off.

I get in my car and drive onto the interstate. Something is different about my dashboard and it takes me a moment to realize… the check engine light that had been on for weeks was now off. That old man must have been an auto mechanic. He fixed my car and undoubtedly saved me a lot of money and headaches down the road. My prejudice had nearly caused me to miss out on this remarkable human interaction. It turns out that invoking God had been the right thing to do, even if I had done it for insincere reasons. Had I not done so, I wonder if the man would have been so insistent to help me. 

I felt humbled and thankful as I drove home, thinking about all of the gifts that God, the universe, or whatever, has laid out before me. I just need to keep my eyes and heart open and receive them with thanks. 

Praising and Criticizing

Alan Watts points out that praise and its opposite create each other. Praise for something or someone becomes meaningless unless the ego also assigns criticism to someone or something else. When you offer praise to someone, two things are happening:

1) you have made them feel good and

2) you have subconsciously assigned a negative criticism somewhere else.

As this continues, there is a diminishing return on the first thing and a cumulative effect on the second. Praise has less impact to the point of eventually going unnoticed. Criticism piles up because, since it is self created, there is nothing to fight against it.

When you praise someone, what are you also criticizing?

Perhaps you praise your sister-in-law for how she always seems to know what to say to make you feel better on bad days. In your subconscious, are you also criticizing your spouse for not having the same effect on you? If you make it a point to praise a co-worker for the job they are doing are you also subconsciously reaffirming your negative feelings about the job a different co-worker is doing?

What about the praise you offer that seems to have no obvious opposite? You praise your friend for their appearance, for their words, for their mind, for their spirit, for the choices they make. There is clearly a basis for comparison, otherwise the praise wouldn’t make sense. In these instances, do you subconsciously compare and criticize yourself?

If praise is not reciprocated in some manner, does that reinforce the validity of the criticism you give yourself? Do you not wish to be praised as often as you praise? Do you rely on outside praise to defend yourself against yourself? Absent that praise, is the ego free to criticize and punish itself for all of its misdeeds and shortcomings, real or perceived?

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