It was my own fault. I had pushed it beyond reason and here I was on a country road, in heels, rain pouring down on me as if the angels were tossing buckets on top of my head. I was going to miss an important meeting and my cell phone was dead.
With the car’s last fumes of gas, the engine sputtered and quietly glided to a stop on the shoulder of the road.
I had known I needed gas when I got into the car, of course. The needle was sitting on empty and had been for quite a while. I knew it the previous night when I drove home. But I was tired and thought I had enough to make it out in the morning to fill up. I had even prayed to a God I was not sure I believed in. Praying was not something that typically happened, but this seemed like a desperate situation. I wasn’t sure how far I had gone since I had noticed the needle flat-lining in the red zone on the meter. I tried my best to ignore it. How much gas did it really take to make it out to the main road?
Now I knew exactly how far the car would go without gas. Just to be sure, I closed my eyes and said another prayer. “Please, please, please!” I pleaded as the engine refused to crank over.
“Oh, come on,” I shouted. “Would it kill you to do this one little thing?” God and I have not been on good terms for most of my life. Still, occasionally, something would happen, and I would turn my eyes to the clouds and throw pleading words towards the heavens.
In my fit of anger, I slammed my fist on the steering wheel, threw the door open, and sloshed myself on the wet gravel to the hatch at the rear of the car, heels sinking into the soft shoulder of the roadway. I was hoping that the umbrella I saw on the kitchen counter that morning had somehow magically made it into the car. I shook my head in disgust at the all-loving Creator of the Universe, as the rain flew off the now soaked ends of my hair, smacking me in the face. Of course, no umbrella. Why did I think there would be?
I grabbed the bright red gas can I kept in the trunk. I rooted around until I found a crumpled-up plastic shopping bag and slid my embarrassment along with the gas can inside the very transparent bag. Anyone who saw it would have known what it was, and knew I belonged to that car sitting on the side of the road with its hazards cheerfully blinking.
I was fuming, if not at myself then at a God who cared so little about me that He couldn’t leave a few ounces of gas in the tank. I had a good two miles to walk to get to the nearest gas station. Cars passed by me, spraying water from the soaked roadway up over my head and down over my body. I kept marching, sputtering curses at the heavens. I could have made my own rain clouds. Couldn’t God at least send a girl a little help?
A beat-up station wagon going the opposite direction slowed down. The driver’s window rolled down and a cacophony of kids laughing, a dog barking, and music playing on the radio met my ears.
“You need help?” the man asked. He looked like the dad to me.
“No, thank you, I’m OK,” I said, as if I wasn’t standing in a downpour with a gas can hidden in a plastic grocery bag in my hands.
“You sure?” A concerned look sat on his face. The back window rolled down and three little faces peered out, soon to be joined by a large shaggy head. “Hi,” a little person chirped, waving his little hand at me. I tried to smile but wasn’t sure if it was coming across as creepy. The woman sitting next to him, the mom, I was guessing, said something and the dad turned to her. “She says she doesn’t need any help, Peg.”
“She clearly needs help. Maybe we can give her a ride,” Peg said in her best mom voice. Dad started to relay the message when I cut in.
“Thank you for asking. But really I am good.” I forced a smile I hardly felt.
“OK. If you are certain. God bless you.” He rolled the window up and the car pulled back onto the road and disappeared around a bend. His God had a very strange sense of humor. God bless me indeed!
Finally, I made it to the crossroads. When traffic allowed, I started to step out into the intersection and something on the gravel right where my foot was about to land caught my eye. I stopped and bent over, placing the gas can down on the ground.
It was the smallest snail! The same color as the pebbles and stones that had been crunching under my feet. How I even saw such a small thing I do not know. When I picked it up, all my anger had drained from me, the gas can forgotten. It was perfect in all ways. The rings on the tiny translucent shell, the small snail body—even the antennas were moving back and forth but in the opposite direction of each other. On its head above, little eyes. This awesome little creature with such a tiny little life, and yet so complete. I was struck by how I could have crushed it under my feet and not even known. I stood in the rain with this tiny life in my hands, a life I didn’t even know existed moments before, a life I could have easily passed by if not crushed under my heel.
I smiled. I couldn’t help myself. The whole situation: running out of gas, the rain, no umbrella; all of it struck me as funny. I must have been quite a sight, standing in the rain laughing out loud. I placed the snail onto the grass out of any other feet that might travel the shoulder. I wished it well, telling it not to get back on the stones.
[Editor’s note: Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow.]