Many years ago I made an evening run to the hospital with friends/members of the congregation to which I then ministered. I rode with them. It was early in the course of treating a lung cancer that turned out a year or so later to be fatal. There were complications with the treatments. There needed to be tests for blood clots and so forth. The doctors wanted the man to check in. His wife wanted him to check in. He didn’t want to check in. At one point we left the hospital and got halfway home before turning around and going back. He checked in. It was all a process. About 3 AM it was decided I would take their car and go home. I would make sure their kids were about their day, get on with my own schedule, and wait to hear what developed. I was familiar enough with their old beater car (one of a series of beaters my friend used to deliver newspapers – a task not suited to nice cars) well enough to know that the hinges on the driver’s door suffered from metal fatigue. You had to lift the door to open it. I did and the door began to open but stuck. This was a new kink. On my knees in the dimly lit hospital parking garage, working the handle and craning my neck to stare at the exposed inner edge of the door, I determined that the latch was stuck. I had no tools. I looked around the garage a bit and found, of all things, a spoon. Using the tip of the spoon handle as a prying tool I managed to trip the latch and open the door completely. The fatigued top hinge chose this moment to give way completely. As I was unprepared for the sudden addition of several pounds of weight, the latch pulled from my fingers and the lower rear corner of the door crashed to the concrete parking deck. After a little head shaking and a long exhale, I got in the driver’s seat, rolled down the window, grasped the door by the top frame, lifted and closed it. Sort of. I could not get the latch to engage. This was in the pre-cell phone era. I could have gone looking for a pay phone and gotten my wife to come get me but it’s not in my nature. I decided I would drive home (a mere fifteen minutes) holding the door shut.
It turned out the whole sequence of events to this point had been observed by a very interested police officer whose current job it was to watch over the parking garage owing to some recent crimes there – specifically, people breaking into cars and stealing stuff. He fell in behind me as I navigated the spiral ramp downward and pulled me over just as soon as I got on the street. He asked for my license. I’m sure he appreciated the way I dug my wallet out and extracted the license with my right hand, never taking my left hand off the driver’s door. He then asked for the car’s registration. This was more difficult as the glove box was a stretch to reach without releasing the driver’s door. That difficulty was compounded when I unlatched the glove box and it fell to the floor. But I gathered up the handful of papers and sorted them – one handed – handing the registration to the officer. He disappeared to his car for a bit and when he came back he noted grimly that the names on the license and registration were not the same, that the plates were expired and instructed me to get out of the vehicle. I complied but first warned the officer – you might want to step back. He did, resting one hand on the butt of his pistol. I released the door and gave it a nudge outward. It crashed to the street.
The officer stood there a moment in silence and then said – ‘You want to tell me about it?’ He listened patiently as I recounted the details of the situation – all the time wondering who was going to feed my children while I was in jail. When I was finished, the officer grinned and shook his head. He returned my papers, allowed me to get back in the car and helped me get the door in place. He advised me to stay on the surface streets and go slow, got back in his cruiser and re-entered the parking garage.
I suppose that my friend’s beater would be an unlikely selection for a car thief. Beyond that, if a person was going to make up a story – they probably would have made up a better one. The truth has a ring to it. It explains the context without straining it. It’s usually simple. And the truth will set you free.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church