Speaking of Prayer

Or, By the Grace of the Check Engine Light

My own skepticism has caused me to hesitate sharing this experience, because when I hear people share their own experiences and draw what I consider to be specious conclusions, I fear that’s how people will perceive the lessons I learned one morning a few weeks ago. When returned missionaries come home and declare that they were good missionaries and kept the commandments, therefore they got engaged within a month of returning home; or when people assume everyone in an entire region of the world was wicked therefore a catastrophe leveled the land, I tend to wince a little. So what I’m about to share may prove a little hypocritical, but the Lord’s judgment is just and for me and me alone; nevertheless I’m willing to face judgment from my spiritual peers and superiors in mortality. Or just not care. I’m fine either way now.

It was a Tuesday night, and I decided to go to bed early, because I had to take my mom to the airport at 3:30 Wednesday morning. She came up to attend my graduation ceremony for library school and had stayed with us for a full six days. The car I usually drive had a flat tire, so we planned to take the other car instead. I headed to bed around 9:00 or 9:30, which would have given me a solid 6 to 6.5 hours of sleep.

In order to sleep, one has to be sleepy, which I wasn’t. I can’t even recall that I was all that tired. I lay in bed and tossed and turned. Every half hour or so I looked at the clock, which gratefully seemed to be creeping along. I played a few rounds of sudoku on the Kindle and read a few pages of The Screwtape Letters. I tried lying on my stomach and then on my back and then on my side. I turned the pillow when it got too warm. I attempted breathing exercises to help relaxation.

Nothing worked. My mind was too active thinking about driving to the airport and potty training Z and work and everything else I could possibly think about. Reilly said if I was too worried about being too tired on the road, we’d get the whole family in the car. But I didn’t want him to be too tired for work. I told myself I’d be fine.

Time went from crawling to running, and around 3:00am I finally dozed off to half-consciousness. My alarm went off at 3:20am. Reilly got up to scrape any ice from the car windows, which there was none. I threw on some jeans and a sweater, then my winter coat. I grabbed a Mountain Dew from the refrigerator. Mom and I climbed into the car.

The ride to the airport was uneventful. I pulled into the dropoff area and helped Mom with her suitcase. We hugged each other. I cried a little. After watching Mom walk into the terminal, I got back into the car.

Just as I had pulled away from the dropoff area and driven onto the road exiting the airport, the check engine light came on. A bright yellow-orange light shaped like a drawing of an engine.

I still had 40 miles to get home.

Sometimes the engine sounded fine. I don’t know anything about cars, but sporadically the engine sounded as if it was losing traction, like it lost its grip on a thingy but another thingy would keep spinning for 5 to 10 seconds until it gained traction again. This happened every few miles the whole way home.

Whenever this happened my stomach sank, and I would experiment with pressure on the gas pedal and vary speeds to see if that affected the traction thingy. The traction thingy happened no matter what I did. Yet I decided to drive slower than the speed limit most of the way; I don’t know why.

The whole time I watched the speedometer and the temperature gauges, and the check engine light stayed on. The whole time, my mind was alert, and I came up with an emergency plan in case the car stopped on the freeway.

The whole time my mind was spinning, with and without traction, much like the engine seemed to be. The whole time I was driving I was praying aloud. I turned off the radio so I could hear the engine, but also so that the Lord knew I was serious about needing to get home. There are worse situations than being stuck on the side of the freeway at 4:30am, but I wanted to get home. I made this desire known.

I talked about my family and my attitude and my current level of spirituality. I apologized for not praying as much and reading my scriptures as much. I started making those deals that people make about being a better person if they survive a certain situation. I expressed gratitude for blessings, for being able to drop off my mom safely at the airport.

The distance home shrank and I steered onto our exit. I asked and hoped that the car would make it to our apartment on the slower city roads and at stop lights. Soon I was just a few miles away. I pulled up to our apartment and parked the car. When I turned off the ignition, the check engine light also shut off. I sighed with relief.

Reilly was up when I walked in. I told him about the car. It wouldn’t be until the following Sunday when Reilly’s dad would look at it to see if anything was wrong.

But it occurred to me: What if nothing was wrong with the car after getting home? What if this was just a thing that happened to keep me awake on the way home from the airport? What if the check engine light turning on was all in my head? If nothing was wrong with the car, it might look like I was just telling stories, for what, attention?

Thankfully, something was wrong with the coil thingy in the engine. Yes, it’s a bummer, but I’m also glad I wasn’t imagining it.

Reilly said that if I had been worried about staying awake on the drive from the airport, the car issue and the check engine light had definitely kept me from falling asleep at the wheel. A blessing in a slightly conspicuous disguise.

I’m grateful the situation compelled me to utter a 35-minute prayer on the freeway in the wee morning hours. The act of praying aloud also had kept me awake.

But what if I had gotten a good night’s sleep? Chances are that the car would have still acted up, and my mind would have still been put on high alert, and I still would have made it home safely. I’d still have something to be grateful for.

Instead of a prayer of desperation, I offer a prayer of gratitude for the check engine light, for the reminders of temporariness of this life, the awareness of struggles in this world, the assurance that–even when we feel we’re losing traction, and I’m just now realizing the analogy of this situation and forthcoming bad pun–exaltation will come to this mortal coil.

Open Letter to … Oh, Who Cares

To Whom It Does Not Apparently Concern,

I know that no public transportation system is perfect. Things happen. Trains break down or even get stuck on the tracks in the “narrows” between Draper and Lehi like the southbound train did this evening. I don’t even know how that kind of a thing happens, but I’d like to understand why it did. Because seriously, if trains were running every hour southbound all day without incident, I wonder what happened. Was there a snowdrift? Could the train’s momentum not push through a snowdrift? I guess I could just jump onto a news website and find out what happened, but it’s so much more fun right now to vent.

The conductor did say that “bus bridges” would pick us up from the Draper station and drop us off at the stops farther south. I was fine with waiting at the stop, because I texted the situation to my husband, and he offered to pick me up.

I was fine waiting in the warm train, away from the frigid air, until the conductor announced (and apologized) that the train would have to go back north. He said that everyone would have to get off the train and wait for the bus bridges. I even bundled up and felt prepared to wait in the cold. Somewhere between zero and ten degrees Fahrenheit. Reilly found the address to the station online, and he texted me that he would pick me up soon.

That text came at 5:44pm. We got kicked off the train at 5:58. Draper’s not that far away from Orem, and northbound rush hour traffic isn’t as busy as southbound, so I guessed Reilly would arrive in about 20-25 minutes, which meant 6:05-6:10.

The wait went beyond that range of expectation, which means that I got that much colder for every minute that I waited past 6:10. I was perfectly cozy in my many layers before then. And then somehow my toes froze inside my insulated boots, which means the insulation worked the wrong way.

So Reilly didn’t get to the Draper Frontrunner station until 6:27, which means it took him 43 minutes from Orem. The station looks to be quite in the middle of nowhere, and I wondered if people who’ve never been to the station could easily find it. The answer is easily no.

Thing is, dear Emersonian eyeball of public transportation: Just because you name a road “Frontrunner Boulevard” doesn’t mean the Frontrunner Station is automatically easy to find. Online, the station location is 12800 S 500 W, but the street names do not follow this grid address system near the station. That extra 17 minutes in the cold really isn’t anything to whine about, but if public transit in Utah is to be efficient and comprehensive:

  • Mark Frontrunner (and bus) stations with signs at the freeway exits
  • Use signs en route (from the freeway exit) to clearly direct public transport commuters to Frontrunner stations
  • Provide better online maps/links for Frontrunner station locations
  • Update the website immediately with alerts or route changes

It could have been worse, definitely, but no one should get lost looking for a Frontrunner station, especially if so many people rely on Frontrunner to get to and from work, and especially if another situation like today happens and people don’t want to keep their friends and lovers cryogenicizing out in Siberia because uncoordinated or lacking streets signs have caused the station to David Copperfield. Poof.

Things could be worse. I could be in Florida, stuck on Blanding Boulevard or the Buckman Bridge. I could be in Manhattan, in a Zipcar on the Westside Highway on the Friday before Labor Day.

But things are better now. My feet are warm again, and I can feel my toes.

So, I guess as long as the mercury doesn’t freeze, there will always appear to be a silver lining.

Thanks for letting me vent,

May

Fast One

I feel it first in my shoulders as the force forward pushes my torso backward. My hips, a fulcrum, slide with the rest of my body, and a slight but firm pressure molds my posture to the surface behind me.

It’s cold outside, and I’m wearing layers to compensate. My ungloved hands feel the soft leather. All the upholstery is perfectly detailed; it still smells new.

Time slows down when you’re going this fast. My haunches rest upon, reverberate with, absorb some of the vibration, the power, as we poke a tiny hole through space, nearing warp speed.

I gasp with the initial lurch. The thrust triggers a small, steady stream of adrenaline. My hands sweat, my eyes dilate. I begin to laugh.

The velocity feels as if it’s reached a magical resonance level; I’ve never felt my entire body hum this way.

I turn my head slowly. The mountains remain fixed, but barely. Everything else – closer, slower – is a blur.

I crane my neck to look. He tells me not to look, but I see enough of the needle moving further clockwise and am conscious enough of the local law, and I am well aware of his eyes on the road and my racing heart and my imagining the other cars shudder or their mouths drop open and lose their … transmissions completely, to realize I am having a great time. I can’t stop laughing.

He slows down, turns the car around, and we do it again.

It’s even better this time.