Monday, August 30, 2010
Years back, sometime in the mid-70s, I was working at a charismatic conference in South Bend, Indiana. In order to save money on housing, I thought I could stay with my parents, who lived in metro Chicago; since, you know, South Bend isn't so very far from Chicago, right? (It hadn't really occurred to me to look at an actual map; I was 19 or 20, and still in the 'Learning Things the Hard Way' stage of my life) (It also hadn't occurred to me that I'd be finishing up in South Bend around 11PM, and that, even if my folks lived on the near side of Chicago from South Bend, I wouldn't get to bed until after midnight; but in fact, my folks live almost as far from South Bend as it is possible to live, in the Chicago metro area, so it was closer to 2AM) (Live and learn, right?). A friend of mine named Ron was also interested in saving housing money, so I arranged with my folks for him to stay with me at their house, too. Ron actually owned a car, so he became my transportation, while I was providing the housing, so it worked out well for both of us. In fact, since I was the one who actually knew how to get to my parents' house, Ron just tossed me the keys and had me drive, so at least in terms of available hours of sleep, it actually worked out a little better for Ron than me. Since I was thinking that it would be about an hour or so of driving from the conference to my folks' house, I was growing more concerned as the hour came and went, and we were just starting to come upon landmarks that I knew were still an hour or more from our destination. And I had an eye on the gas gauge, since we were obviously going to be putting on quite a few more miles than I had thought, and at hours of the night when open gas stations wouldn't be easy to find. Finally, we got to the freeway exit for the surface road which would take us to my mom-and-dad's house in just seven more miles, and with the gas needle showing about 1/8 full, I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that we'd be able to fill the tank in the morning. We'd driven a mile or two of the seven when suddenly, the car sputtered, the engine quit, and we rolled to a stop on the side of the road, still five miles or more from our destination. Ron, who had been sleeping, stirred awake. "What's going on?" Uh, the car just stopped. "Oh, yeah; I meant to tell you - when the gas gauge reads 1/8 of a tank, it's really empty." (*dumbfounded stare*) Man, I wish I'd known that an hour ago, bro. . . "Sorry. So what are we gonna do?" (*sigh*) I have no idea. I suppose we could pray (We were just coming from a charismatic conference, after all). "What good is THAT gonna do? It's 2AM, we're out of gas, and there's no place open we could even walk to." You got a better idea? "No, I suppose not." And so we prayed. Before we had even finished our prayer (which, to the best of my recollection went something like, 'Oh, God - please HELP! Uh, amen.'), a pair of headlights appeared behind us on the road, and pulled in behind us. We were wondering if it might be the police, or someone like that. The door of the car opened, and the driver approached our car. He was a pretty dorky-looking guy, with a funny-looking haircut, a plaid sport-jacket, a bow-tie, and plaid pants that didn't match his jacket. I rolled down my window. "You guys need some help?" Well, uh. . . yeah. We're out of gas. "Oh. Okay. Hang on a second." He went back to his car and opened the trunk (it was difficult to see exactly what he was doing, what with the glare of his headlights, and all). As he walked back to our car, he was carrying a large can. When he got back to my window, he held up a 5-gallon gas can. "Is this enough?" Ummm. . . yeah! That's way more than we need, actually - we've only got to go five miles or so. "No problem!" Then he went to the fill tube and emptied the entire 5-gallon can into our tank, while I looked at Ron with a smug, 'and-here-you-didn't-want-to-pray' smile. We were still shaking our heads at the whole thing - us praying, and then Mr. Unmatched-Plaid-Suit coming instantly, the only other vehicle we'd seen since leaving the freeway, and he just happening to have a full 5-gallon can of gas in his trunk - when we noticed that our mysterious benefactor was gone. We hadn't seen him leave, he hadn't come back to speak to us after filling our tank, we hadn't gotten to thank him, we hadn't noticed his tail-lights continuing on down the road. He'd just done his good deed and. . . vanished. Ron and I looked back at each other, now with more of a 'man-this-is-really-weird' expression on our respective faces. Ron finally spoke. "Do you think. . . that might have been an angel?" I have no idea. But this whole thing sure fits with how I might imagine one. (Though, to be perfectly candid, I hadn't really imagined that an angel, if I ever met one, would be quite so dorky-looking; who knew?) I turned the key, and the car started instantly. A few minutes later, I was letting us into my parents' front door. The next morning (bright and early, you can be sure, now that we knew just how long it was gonna take us to get back to South Bend), my mom fed us breakfast, and (*ahem*) after filling the gas tank, we drove back to the conference. And the second night, we borrowed some floor space with other friends of ours, in one of the on-campus dorms. . .