Tuesday, December 6, 2016

On the Way to El Paso: A Remarkable Thing

A highway in New Mexico. August 2013.

On the way to El Paso, the most remarkable thing happened to me. Two things. Two remarkable things. No, let's make it three. All in the space of a day.

After visiting an aunt and uncle in Dallas, then a detour to see an aunt in Austin, I was on my way for reals to El Paso.

I left my Austin aunt's apartment about mid-afternoon, then pulled over for the night in Junction, Texas, at the Motel 6 there.

The first remarkable thing

I passed a pleasant night at the motel. The next morning was warm and sunny; a shining day to begin a new chapter in a slow-travel life. A man sat on a chair outside his room, adjacent to mine, drinking his morning coffee. He and his wife were on a bit of a road trip.

We chatted as I went in and out of my room, putting stuff into my car before checking out.

The man had spent his career as an attorney who focused primarily on administrative issues. Now retired, he provided pro bono services to low-income people in need of legal help.

I told him some about me, that I'd sold my house and all my stuff a few years back, that I moved every year, wrote a blog, that I was en route to my new home in El Paso.

It was a nice conversation. And in trying political and social times - in the midst of a harrowing presidential election process in late August - I felt sustained by talking to someone throwing good stuff into the universe via his pro bono work.

When I was about ready to get in my car and go, the man reached his hand out to me, and it had a fold of money in it. I laughed, taken aback, and literally backed away, saying, "No, no, I don't need any money! Why are you doing this?!" I may have even nodded toward my 1995 vehicle, exclaiming, still laughing, "I drive this car by choice!"

The man was persistent, and I don't know why I accepted his gift, but I did, eventually, saying, "I'm going to accept this, but I'm going to pay this forward to someone! Thank you!" I got into my car, tossed the folded bills onto the passenger seat without looking at them, and drove away. Laughing in amazement about the generosity demonstrated by one soul toward another, for motivations unknown.

The second remarkable thing

I drove from Junction to Fort Stockton, a happy day of pretty weather, exceptional music (curated by moi), and the continuing glow from the first remarkable thing.

At Fort Stockton, I turned into a truck stop to get gas, go to the bathroom, and refresh my coffee. I pulled up alongside one of the pumps. I got out of my car, about to slide my card, select my fuel, and pump the gas.

I glanced over to my left and, parked over on the edge of the lot, I saw a man and woman standing outside a large sedan. The woman walked over to me.

"Are you coming from Louisiana?" she asked.

I thought to myself, "Wha? How could she possibly know that I've only recently moved from Louisiana? I don't have Louisiana license plates. I don't have any bumper stickers that link me to Louisiana."

I replied, "No, but I did move from there recently. Why do you ask?"

She said, "We lived in Baton Rouge. The flooding. We had to leave. We've lost everything. Now we're stranded here; we're out of money."

I looked at her silently for a moment. 

Days earlier, South Louisiana suffered massive flooding, turning many residents out of their homes.

I looked at the sedan - with Texas plates, not Louisiana plates. I asked her about the plates. The woman said, "That's my mother's car. We went to her house and she's letting us use her car." She called to her husband to bring her wallet, which he did. She opened it up to show me her driver's license. Louisiana.

I forget where she said that she and her husband were on their way to. The car was loaded with stuff, indicating a move. Just like my car.

I said, "I have something for you. You won't believe it, but only this morning, a man I don't know gave me money, for a reason I don't know."

I moved to my car door, opened it, reached over to the passenger seat where I had flung the folded bills. For the first time, I opened up the fold to see how much money was there. Three twenties. Sixty dollars. Damn, that was a lot of money.

I gave it all to the woman, who was dumbfounded (as I would have been) and so grateful for the unexpected gift.

When I was in South Louisiana, I knew a Creole woman. And she had lived some hard times along with some good times. A practicing Christian, she told me one day, "You've got to give to people in need and not worry what they're going to do with it. You've just got to trust. That person asking for help could be Christ."

It felt darn good to pass along the man's gift to another person, to just take the risk and trust. Besides, that money was never mine.

It was a remarkable encounter.

The third remarkable thing

I went inside the truck stop, used the restroom, refreshed my coffee, and returned to my car. The woman and her husband had left.

And that's when the third remarkable thing happened: the internal script began to unroll - thoughts about their choices in life, how they'd got into their predicament, why didn't they this, why hadn't they that?

Amazing how quickly I hopped onto the judge-y train.

So quickly, that it pulled me up short. I had forgotten how being poor is not just about having money or not having money. Being poor pervades every aspect of our thoughts and actions. There is fear, anxiety, fatalism, sometimes despair, sometimes who-gives-a-fuck what I spend my money on today, because I owe so much, any dollar I throw at my problems is like spitting into the ocean, and I better grab some gusto while I've got some to grab. Sometimes I make good decisions; sometimes I make stupid ones.

This money wasn't about that couple. It wasn't about what they did with that money. It was about me. It was about having the trust to just give it to another human and let it go.

These three remarkable things came from a man sitting outside his room at a Motel 6 in Junction, Texas, drinking a cup of coffee on a warm, bright Sunday morning in August.

Thank you.

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