My dad lost his job when I was 9 ½ years old. It was a while before he found his niche as an over-the-road truck driver and managed to get his footing. In the meantime he worked a series of odd jobs.
They’re called odd” jobs, but these were fairly run of the mill: general laborer in a sheet metal plant, shipping clerk, mechanic in a transmission shop, custodian, etc. He didn’t really stay at any one of them very long – weeks? months? maybe a year? – but none of them actually suited him like trucking eventually would.
One of these odd jobs was noteworthy, though, simply because of an incident that occurred while he was working that job. Dad was hired as an attendant at a full-service gas station – you know, the kind where they rolled carts of tires out of the bay and closer to the sidewalk each morning, where you got your windshield washed and your oil checked with every fill up, and where if you need the ladies’ restroom you had to go to the office and get a key (that would invariably be hanging on a nail and also chained to a random block of wood!) to unlock the door which would be on the outside of the building, toward the back. That kind of gas station. Self service and convenience stores weren’t a figment of anyone’s imagination just yet.
The owner would open the station early in the morning and work till about 3:00, then Dad took over in the mid afternoon and worked until close, at 11:00. It was very near the end of Dad’s shift and he was nearly finished with the close-up-shop routine. Then all of a sudden, before he even knew what happened, two men rushed into the office and held him up at gun-point.
But what was happening registered, Dad was scared. Fortunately, he had a capacity to stay calm and level-headed in emergencies, so his demeanor under duress probably influenced the outcome of the ordeal.
The robbers demanded he give them all the money on the premises. Who knows whether they imagined the amount of cash to be large enough to make it worth the risk, or whether they were just desperate. But it became obvious they had been casing the station and knew exactly when Dad would likely be alone as he shut things down. Once they had the loot they forced him into a storeroom where they bound and gagged him. Despite being a man of faith, Dad was acutely aware that these could be his last moments on earth.
“Shoot him!” one of the men shouted to the other. But then nothing.
“What’s wrong with you?!! He can identify us! SHOOT HIM!!”
I imagine that during those surreal few seconds, amid the shouting and his own racing thoughts, he would have been struggling to come to grips with his role in this grim drama, and his wife and five children, asleep at home, might have flashed through his mind.
But I also imagine this to be the very moment when the guardians of his fate intercepted and totally overcame the minions of darkness that threatened his demise.
“I said SHOOT HIM!!”
The silent partner suddenly blurted, “I can’t!”
And in a flash they were gone, leaving the eye witness behind, unharmed.
Dad spent the rest of the night on the floor, unable to free himself and with no way to summon help. When his boss arrived in the morning to find the station wide open and unlocked, he immediately realized something was amiss and quickly found Dad. He freed him and drove him home. Later that morning while Dad slept, Mom filled us in on the terrible events of the night before. I was relieved and oh-so-grateful that my dad’s life had been spared.
Dad would go on to eventually find a job he really liked, fix up a house, watch his five children grow up and give him grandchildren and great grandchildren, involve himself in his neighborhood, serve in his church, cultivate iris, collect and enjoy books and recordings, eventually retire, celebrate a 60th wedding anniversary with his wife, and all sorts of other life-embracing activities. His was a full life.
Perhaps his most precious endeavor was comprised in a collection of cards he kept in his den, right beside his blue easy chair. He once showed me the thick stack of sturdy 4×5 note cards, each bearing a name inscribed in his distinctive calligraphy. Each card was covered in a hand-drawn grid, like graph paper, and each had a varying number of small boxes filled in. He explained that each time he prayed for that person he filled a little square.
He pulled out the card bearing my name. I was slightly crestfallen when I saw that mine didn’t have as many filled-in boxes as some of the others. Then he showed me another card that also had my name at the top – but this one had been completely filled in – front and back! He had prayed for me so often that he had to make a new card to catch the overflow.
I was staggered by the sheer number of tiny boxes, hundreds per card, each representing a separate petition. I was stunned by the relentlessness with which he lovingly covered everyone within his embrace. My siblings all had cards. Their spouses had cards. The grandchildren. Their children. His in-laws. Their families. His buddies. His neighbors. His friends at church. You name ‘em, they had a card.
I suppose when the possibility of a person’s very existence can be traced back to a single moment in time that perhaps pivoted on a prayer, one could become pretty convinced of the value of praying. In gratitude for having dodged a bullet, you might say Dad “prayed” it forward. Like nobody else I ever knew.
There’s this verse in the fifth chapter of the very last book of the Bible that refers to golden bowls in heaven filled with incense. It says the incense is the prayers of the people of God. There are moments in my life – to this day – when I feel like I’m still a beneficiary of his many prayers for me. It’s as if one of those other-worldly bowls gets tipped and then a prayer offered years ago sloshes over the rim and spills into my life. And I reap continuing goodness sown into my life during my dad’s years on this earth.
And I am grateful.