Back in Summer '06, the lights went out here and everywhere else near here. Freak storm, all the trees went down, the power went out. Later in this saga, we got desperate and stayed with Mary and Heidi, but the first night, Mike stayed at my parents' house to ward off would-be looters (there were none) and I stayed in our house with the girls. I read Bake and Be Blessed by Fr. Dominic Garramone. I read the whole thing in one night, by flashlight, and at the end of it, knew I was going to find an oblate program.
But that's not the "God Moment" I'm talking about. In that book, he writes about the examen, which is a daily (nightly) practice of looking over your day. Not the same thing as an examination of conscience, which is a scrutiny of yourself, your actions, thoughts, inactions, sin, etc. More of an examination of God in your life. Where was God in your life today? He uses the story from WWII of an orphanage in France. The children there were extremely agitated, obviously, especially at night time. One of the workers came up with a plan to give the children bread at bedtime. The children could eat it right then, or save it if they wanted. The feeling, or belief, they were trying to give the children was you were fed today, and you will be fed tomorrow. The point of the examen is to see those bread moments throughout your day so you can see more of them tomorrow.
I have lots of these moments, times when I realize "this is important" and later look back and confirm that, yes, that was a pivotal moment. God was in the details. Something like that. One I especially like to retell involves our trip later that same year, out to California and back. Mike had never driven in the mountains before, and burned up our brakes at some point--by the time we were leaving Yosemite, they weren't working pretty much at all. That was a horrible downhill slide. At one point, we pulled over to where this group of construction workers were taking a break, and Mike asked them where we might go to get the car looked at, because on the map, it looked like we'd have to go all the way to Fresno. No, they told us, go to Oakhurst. Even specifics: there's a vet clinic, and a barbecue place, and right after that, Yosemite Smog. We finally make it down into Oakhurst, dropping about 4000 feet in those 16 miles. We see Sweetwater Steakhouse and a vet clinic. We turn left, and see a sort-of garage, no real signage except for a banner reading “All-Auto Smog”, surrounded by a chain link fence. This is the real deal. I have this sinking feeling. We are trapped in this crappy town and will have to sell one of our children to get the repairs done on the car.
Mike gets out and I stay with sleeping Maeve and whining Sophia. At that very moment, a Carquest car parts truck pulls up. A balding burnt-by-the-sun Californian in his 40s or 50s steps out. “Are you looking for John?” he asks us. Mike explains the situation.
“Oh, no, John's on vacation. On a cruise in Alaska. Gordon's doing a little work—were you looking to get it done right away?” Mike explains again. Carquest guy takes out his cell phone and calls his store. Asks his dispatcher to call all the mechanics around town, see if they can find someone to do a fast brake job for a guy on vacation. The office calls back. Big John isn't answering his phone (sometimes he leaves early) but Little Joe can get us in tomorrow morning. Little Joe. Carquest guy tells us he'll take us over to Little Joe's if we'd like.
"Hi, I'm Mike Wissinger," Mike introduces himself.
"Eddie Gilmore," is the reply.
Little Joe's is just three properties away. We pull in, and it's also a Hertz rental place. I tell Mike that we could rent a car, continue to Sequoia/Kings Canyon as normal, and it would only be a 45 minute detour tomorrow to pick up the van. He goes to find out what's going on. Eddie is still with us, and he introduces Mike to Little Joe and tells him, on the side, that this guy is reliable—and he delivers to all the mechanics in the area, he could tell us stories. We can't believe our good fortune mixed with bad luck.
But the Hertz gal on the same property, but run by a separate family, doesn't have any cars. Eddie says he'll run down the road and check with Enterprise. Mike goes into the Little Joe office and fills out paperwork. Little Joe's wife, who also works as his secretary, walks over to the Hertz office to see if they can work something out. Hertz Lady says they physically have two cars, but they haven't been vacuumed, washed, or had an oil change recently. But they chat and Hertz Lady waives the maintenance when she hears both our situation and that it's only one day. When Eddie gets back, Mike thanks him for his time, and Eddie tells us that Hertz is a better idea than the local Enterprise anyway. Cheaper and easier to deal with. You know, small town knowledge we'd never have, right there in a white pick up truck. Eddie goes back to work, and we get a super-cheap rental car out of the whole situation.
Little Joe tells us he's got our car as number one for tomorrow morning. We consolidate our bags and hop on in the small, but serviceable, four-door chameleon car. We now have protective coloration: California plates. We stop at a gas station in town and fill up. Mike's phone rings, and it's Hertz Lady calling back. Could we check the side door pocket and see if a license fell down there? Indeed, I find a California license for a woman from Mariposa. We drive back down the road to Little Joe's and deliver it. On our way back out of town, with McDonald's for the girls and a vitamin water for me, I notice that the barbecue place and veterinarian combo actually repeats itself later in the town—and this one actually is a white stand alone building as originally described. And the car repair shop right behind it is actually Yosemite Smog.
So we were at the wrong mechanic station when the delivery guy from Carquest pulled in behind us for no delivery since John was out of town and Gordon was only thre working on his own boat – not doing business. And Eddie the Carquest guy took time out of his day to find us a mechanic (since he knew them all), reassure us that the one we got was decent, and hunt down a rental car for us. If we'd gone to Yosemite Smog, Eddie the Carquest guy would not have been there. He was at John's closed-for-vacation shop.
And when I was watching the correct barbecue place, veterinarian, and mechanic go past out Mike's window, I had one of those moments. Call it good fortune, call it creepy coincidence, or call it grace. We were at the wrong place and that's what made it all work out for us.
Little Joe's mechanic Duane called us before we were in Fresno. He'd already checked out the van, to see what he might need to order to fix it tomorrow. The right rear brake shoe was disintegrated. This teaches me two things: a) don't rely on your brakes coming down out of the mountains (instead, switch into lower gears and let your engine slow you down—we figured out how useful this was a bit too late but still in time for more mountain driving on the way home), and b) trust that at least when I'm with Mike, all will be well. I mean, talk about someone who falls in s**t and comes out smelling like a rose. If I'd been the one trying to do the talking in this situation, we'd probably be at the Oakhurst Comfort Inn with two grumpy kids and no car for two days instead of lying in bed at John Muir Lodge under a handstitched quilt, the full moon rising above the conifer trees all around us, the German Harley riders playing cards on the front porch, and the sound of the fan in the window lulling babies to sleep. Ah, California.