The mechanic spoke in whimsical tones, throwing his arms around, and stopping to stare at me when he wanted my reaction.
“You ever watch Deadliest Catch?”
“Sure,” I nodded. “The reality show about crabbing in Alaska?”
“That was my life for 14 years,” he said. “I got out before I died; many of my buddies weren’t so fortunate.”
The acrid smell of burned tire, axle grease and cigarette smoke hung heavy in the tight garage, and settled in my throat. I coughed lightly.
“Can you fix it?”
“Sure,” he said. “$25 bucks will patch her up, and you’ll be back on the road.”
He continued. “Before Alaska and the crabbing gig, I was in male entertainment.”
“That is, until my mother and sister showed up one night, then every one in town heard about it…quit soon after.”
I laughed, listened, and asked questions. He stopped in the middle of patching the tire, and thrust his greasy hand in my direction. He held the nail, my souvenir.
“Did I tell you about my stint in professional soccer…?”
What an interesting life, I thought, and he loved to talk about it. A few minutes passed before I spotted an opening…
“Pat, your life sounds fascinating,” I said. “I’m curious, what’s your story spiritually?”
He stopped working, and looked at me, puzzled.
“I mean, have you been to church, or involved in any kind of formal religious instruction?”
“Oh, sure, grew up in parochial schools, nuns with rulers…the whole bit.”
“Let me tell you about my journey,” I said. He paused, took a step toward me, and starred in my face. The more I spoke, the softer his features became. He held the patch in his hand, a goopy black substance smeared all over it. The tire could wait.
When I finished, it was quiet in the shop. A kind of appreciation, like a warm quilt, draped us, a respect built when two people share stories, common to one another; a zeal for adventure, and a hunger to know what makes life work. Pat had tried a lot of venues to find life, and now as he bent over my tire in the shadows of a hot summer morning, my own heart knit to him. I wanted to try one more time to tell him that Love waited for him to come home.
He broke the silence.
“My pacemaker stopped working about a year ago.” His back was turned to me, as he stuck the nozzle into the tire valve and started inflating.
“Tell me about it.”
“I was driving to see some buddies in Alaska, and I picked up a hitchhiker,” he recounted. “He told me he was a pastor, and when I explained that I had heart issues, he reached over and placed his hand on my chest. Mile after mile he left it there, and then suddenly took it away. I asked him why he did it, and said he was praying for me. A short time after that trip, it just stopped working.”
“Sounds like God healed you,” I said.
“Yea, that’s what I think, too.”
I looked around the garage floor littered with scraps of metal, motor parts, broken belts and lots of grease. The remnants of jobs, getting people like me back on the road. Mechanics fix things. So does God. Things break and people break. Pat heard the gospel while fixing a tire, a beautiful metaphor of where God is when nails puncture our expectations, and lead us off our course.
Down the road I started to think about Pat, about a young man fast as the wind on a soccer field, winning games and gaining glory, only to have it all end with a fractured leg.
I watched him on an icy deck in howling winds of the Bering Sea, thought about how many times God must have reached down and steadied his grip.
I saw him put his life savings into a broken down service station, changing tires, sweating it out, and telling about his life to anyone who entered his shop.
I thought about how knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens. I felt blessed to have heard his stories, pieces of his life really. To see his tears as he recalled his wife passing three years before, how the cancer was relentless, and though she fought bravely, lost a painful battle. It gutted him. I put these pieces together, and for an instant I saw something I hadn’t seen before. Through his journey, this full life experiencing more than most would in several lifetimes, he was running to catch something, finding it allusive, he would try another venue, seeing it empty, still another, until now older, but no wiser, he was putting pennies in the bank one tire at a time.
To this day I can’t forget the look he gave me when we parted. He thanked me for the business, and for the kind words. In his eyes I noticed something that wasn’t there when we began our chat, a glint of hope.
“I’m going to the Rock and Roll Church down the road this week,” he said, then laughed.
“That sounds like a good idea, Pat.”