Gratitude Journal #1- Flat Tire

posted on: October 24, 2010

I'm feeling that something isn't right, so I turn down the radio and hear thumping as I drive. The sound is familiar and I know what I need to do. I pull the Red Ford Escape into the Hess gas station and get out of the car to discover that my rear driver-side tire is flat. It's been this flat before, and after Alex put air in it, it was fine for a few more weeks. If it's a leak in the tire, it's a pretty slow leak that takes weeks to show. However, with the recent onset of cold temperatures, I figure the tire probably lost air much more quickly than normal.

As I'm attempting to put air in the tire (I'm so grateful for free air stations), a man comes over to me and asks if I need help. At first I think he's an attendant from the gas station who's wondering why I've had the air pump on for an unusually long time. I explain that I just need to put some air in my tire and it should be fine. He looks at me, he looks at the tire, and it becomes fairly obvious that the air probably isn't doing anything for the state of the tire. He puts the air on the tire just as I did, pounds on the tire with his fist to check for pressure, and determines the air isn't doing a thing. I dig in the back of the car to find the spare tire hidden but unsecured against a collage of forgotten items and he runs to his car to pull out his jack.

I attempt to help in whatever way I can on multiple occasions, but he refuses, so I'm left to stand by and watch. It's cloudy, gray, and sprinkling- not an ideal day to change a tire. He's tall, lean, attractive, and comfortably dressed with a newsboy hat and bright white socks inside sport sandals. He has a bit of an accent when he speaks, but I can't really figure it out. I wonder if he helped me because I might have looked more like a damsel in distress from behind, rather than a pimpled glasses-wearing married woman who was probably just going to call the insurance company if she couldn't fix it on her own. I refrain from calling or texting anyone else in order to be fully present in case he decides he actually does want my help.

As his jack lifts the vehicle, the gravity of the wheel combined with the rear suspension continues to keep the wheel too low to put the spare tire on. What seems like it could be an easy fix, turns into something more complicated, involving the use of both of our jacks and an additional 20 minutes of getting wet in the cold. We make small talk and I find out he's from Brazil, moved here 10 years ago, works for Honda in Tewksbury, has a sister in Italy who has a new baby, and he has family in Orlando. He lives down the street and his name is Ivan... I think... I have a terrible memory for names. I tell him that I must thank him and I ask him to think of something I can help him with.

He shows me how putting the bad tire under the car while the tire is off will help prevent damage if the jack fails and shows me the proper star pattern I need to use in order to screw the bolts back onto the wheel safely. I look for a receipt for the tire, wondering who I should take it back to in order to have it fixed. I find the Firestone receipt from Terre Haute, IN and I can see that the tires are two years old but only about 20,000 miles into their 60,000 mile lifeline since we've rarely driven this car since moving to Massachusetts. Once the spare tire is on, I clap in excitement, and start moving the stuff around in the back of the car to make room for the flat tire. As Ivan looks at the mess in the back, he asks if I'm sure there's nothing that will be damaged by the tire and I assure him that if my husband cared about the items, they wouldn't be there. I feel a little guilty about the mess, so I find a wine glass and external speaker to move to safely to the side, cover the remaining stuff with a spare sleeping bag and put a plastic gray poncho on top so Ivan can feel good about putting down the tire in a safe spot.

I thank him again and ask him if there's ANYTHING I can do for his help, and all he says is "God bless" and starts to walk away. 

I ask him to wait and tell him that I at least have to give him a hug, he stops, I hug him, he says "God bless" again and walks off to his car. I get in my car and start to think of ways I can potentially return the favor, or even pay it forward. As he drives away, he waves at me with the biggest smile on his face and I return the wave and smile. Part of me wonders if finding a way to thank someone for doing something altruistic makes it less fulfilling to the giver. My thoughts are interrupted by "First Church" programming on WERS, my favorite radio station which I had just made a donation to yesterday, but had never listened to on Sunday mornings. I look down at the clock and the time is 11:11am, a time that reminds me of supernatural synchronicity, since I often find myself seeing 11:11 on the clock nearly every day.

I'm overwhelmed by all of the feelings I'm experiencing which turns into tears welling up in my eyes and streaming down my face. I must find a way to pay this forward.

I don't change the radio station, which would normally happen at the sound of religious programming. Instead, I listen, hoping I'll hear a message that will inspire me to pay it forward. I decide I should probably take the car to a shop to get the tire fixed, but I also wonder if they'll be open on a Sunday. When I get to Dutton St where I would need to turn in order to head toward Firestone I'm listening more than thinking and I end up turning right toward the errands I had set out to do before discovering the flat tire, rather than turning left toward the shop. I decide it's fate, and I figure the spare tire can handle the trip to Harvard, MA and back since I won't have time to run the errands later in the week.

(Note: as I write this, the time is now 4:44pm.)

Fall foliage is in full peak and by next weekend most of it will be gone. I delight in the bright red and yellow maple leaves that seem to practically glow as I drive by them and I think of how wonderful and how fleeting fall colors are. From the radio, I hear that the musical meditation will be "Late October" by Paul Cienniwa. It's a beautiful choral piece with complex harmonies and I'm reminded of how much I miss singing in a choir that performs challenging and fulfilling music. I learn that First Church is in South Boston, which is reassuring in that it's close enough to participate in, yet disappointing in that it isn't closer to home. I remind myself to start looking for opportunities to sing after the holidays. With our holidays spent out of town in the midwest, I know I can't commit to learning holiday repertoire only to be absent for the performances.

The Rev. Canon Robin Whitehead from St. Botolph’s Church, Boston (the "mother Boston"), England tells a story of two men who are neighbors and get into an argument that leads them not speaking to one another and to one of them building a creek to divide their homes. A carpenter comes along looking for work and the other neighbor wants to build a fence so he doesn't have to look at the creek or the neighbor's home and be reminded of him. The carpenter works hard and at the end of the day produces a beautiful wooden bridge over the creek. The neighbor crosses over and the men forgive each other. The story reminds me of a couple friends who have decided to stop talking to me despite my efforts to reach out to them.

 I wonder if they'll ever cross the bridge and if there's a lesson for me in there as well.

Along the road, there's a sign for "Phil's Apples: State Cider Champ" and my curiosity leads me to follow the arrows. After a few wrong turns, I find the little orchard which could easily be missed if driving too fast. Phil greets me and asks me if I'd like to pick some apples, I tell him that I'd actually love to buy some cider, but after seeing no signs of a visa logo on his screened porch, I tell him that I only have a debit card. He says he can also take checks, but I tell him that I'll have to come back after I find an ATM. He asks me how much cider I'd like, and I tell him four gallons, which I'll be sharing with honors students at UMass Lowell. He tells me the cider is really good this year, and I should try a sample. I take a drink, agree with him and let him know that I'll be back later.

I continue back on my original drive to Friendly Crossways where I had planned to pick up my studio coat rack and birdcage that Rich & Ashley borrowed for their wedding. On the radio I hear about a Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless that needs volunteers and feeds at least a hundred people. I remember last year's Thanksgiving at the Honors House where we had prepared enough food to feed 8-10 people, but only had one additional guest. While there were other students in the dorm for Thanksgiving, they may not have felt comfortable joining us for a private meal, but perhaps they'll feel comfortable volunteering for others. I think I've finally found my way to pay it forward and decide that this Thanksgiving would be better spent preparing meals for those who have no friends or families they can share Thanksgiving with. I reach out on twitter and facebook to find out if anyone knows of a place locally where we can volunteer.

After picking up my items and some of the items that Rich & Ashley had left at Friendly Crossways, I head back into Harvard center to find an ATM so that I can pick up the cider from Phil's. While in the General Store and happy to find an ATM, I discover some sodas I've never seen before, including one called "Curiosity Cola" which I decide I must try along with some locally made natural sodas and another locally made Root Beer. I'm delighted by how much I love this little town of Harvard, MA with its orchards, farm stands, Fruitlands Museum, conservation land, candlepin bowling and general store with locally made goods.

I make my way back to Phil's Apples without getting lost (but had marked it with a dropped pin on my iphone map just in case) and wait for Phil while he talks with another couple who is there for the first time, also for cider. They ask about the price of the honeycomb, which they decide not to get. Phil asks if they'd like to buy some apples, and they thank him but just want the cider. As Phil talks, I notice the baby cider press he's using. I'd only seen large cider presses that required lots of gears and electrical or water power to operate until now. It's so simple, so fresh, and Phil is so happy; it makes me feel even better about paying $6 for a gallon of cider. Phil mentions that it's too cold for his wife to be outside pressing the cider like she normally does, but that they can usually make 20 gallons a day. I feel a bit bad about taking 4 gallons at once, but notice another pallet of cider further back on the porch. The previous customer asks me if I need help, but I feel fully capable with two gallons in each hand.

On my way back to Lowell, it starts raining again and I change the station to NPR where there's a discussion with a developmental cognitive neuroscientist about the value of dramatic play in developing executive function. I'm especially interested since I have a natural curiosity in neuroscience but also since I've started assisting in a theatrical artist residency for Citi Performing Arts Center in collaboration with the Jeremiah Burke High School. I've been considering a masters in arts education, and the discussion on the radio talks about the lack of research in this particular area, which provides some encouragement toward a possible masters thesis.

I call Alex, who is spending his last day in Missouri with his family. I tell him what happened with the tire, Ivan who helped and wanted nothing in return, that I picked up some cider to share with the students on Monday night, the discussion on dramatic play and cognitive development and that we should think about volunteering for Thanksgiving. He tells me about his presentation, how he met a professor who started an entire honors college at WVA, and that he'll be heading into Kansas City with his mom and stepdad for some Leo's pizza- his second Leo's visit while being there. He lets me know that his flight will be arriving into Manchester, NH at 11:20pm and we talk about our upcoming obligations for the week before saying we'll see each other later tonight.

Since the rain still looks like it won't be letting up, I call the band I had scheduled to shoot outside with for the evening and ask if they'd like to do an inside shoot or reschedule. We reschedule their session for later in the week and instead of shooting their session, I spend my time writing this story to share with you. Whether these things are fate, pure coincidence, or something greater, I cannot say, but I do know that I felt compelled to share it all with you, with the slight chance that it will inspire someone else to be as grateful as I am in this very moment. I'm grateful for the kindness of strangers, for the colors of nature, for beautiful music, for stories of inspiration, for ways to give back, for people who do what they love and share it with others, for people who want to change the world in positive ways, for diversions and curiosity, for the rain that sometimes changes our plans, and for being able to share it all with people we love. What are you grateful for?

5 comments, to add [click here]:

  1. Anonymous6:49 PM

    Loved your post tonight Anne:) I'm grateful for the health of my children, my hubby, and my own. I've been recovering for three weeks after surgery and was catching up on blog "stalking" today while I rested (again!) and thought over the things I would like to do when I fully recover. I lived in Harvard, MA when I was a little girl and still return to it to enjoy the sights and the small town feel of it. While I was too young to remember all the details I revel in the the stories my parents share of our time there, a simpler time:)

    I love when life gives us small gifts like the ones you had throughout your day today. What a blessing! My heart smiles for you.

    From one photographer to another and with much warmth,

  2. what a nice guy! i just so happen to bring my car to that honda dealership for all of its tuneups and repairs... always have gotten stellar service there - now i know why - because the people who work there are great!

    thanks for sharing.

  3. I am grateful that my little composition reached your ears and drew you in. Thanks for listening.

  4. I am grateful for the natural autumn colors, the air we breath, the friends and family that we have to love, for the food on the table, for the roof over our heads for the clothes we have to wear, for the bed we have to sleep on, for the talents God gave me, for the heat in the winter, for the doors that He opens, for the autumn tree I just put up, for all the things that God Provides to me and My Family.

    I didn't have some of these things last year, but today I am grateful for all of it. I am able to appreciate certain things that much more. I loved your story, sometimes it's the little things that we overlook when life is so hectic.

    May the Lord Bless you always.

  5. Well, right now I'm grateful that I discovered your work and subscribed to your blog! ;)

    I, too, see the clock at 11:11, 4:44, etc. quite frequently, and it's refreshing to me that you see it as "supernatural synchronicity", not something to be spooked out about. It's a beautiful gift to receive, indeed!


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