The reason my blog site is called Camino2016 is rooted in having walked that path then. However, walking that Camino taught me that all of life is a path, a Camino that we each are walking at our own paces. And these many Caminos encounter mishaps. One of these when we “run out of gas.” Now, on the Camino, I “ran out of gas” daily physically— I felt like I had no energy. But last week I heard story after story of folk who had “run out of gas” in their cars.
Talking to a friend he told me the story of traveling with his sister across the country – he was around 22 and she was 19. In the middle of nowhere Nebraska at 9:30 pm at night, they ran out of gas. They had been watching the fuel gauge and my friend had double-checked the owner’s manual and decided the car was equipped with a gas light that would warn them when they were especially close to running out of gas. But, still, they ran out of gas, and no light had popped on. Turned out the car was not equipped with that light after all!
They were literally in the middle of nowhere. They did have the AAA card their mom had gotten for them for just such emergencies. This was the era before cell phones so there was no “phoning from the car.” Isn’t it strange to be among those who can say “before the era of cell phones?” It is like our grandparents who would say, “Well, we took the horse-drawn carriage…” Some days I feel ancient.
They decided that the 19-year-old sister would walk back (by herself, in the dark) to the Rest Stop they reckoned was about 2 miles back, while her brother remained with the car and all her earthly possessions. He said how he still wonders the wisdom of this plan, but figured she would be no better off alone, waiting in the car! And they did not want to abandon the car and both walk back. Cars zoomed passed him while he sat on the side of the road, emergency flashers blinking. He imagined one of them swerving slightly and nailing him and the car in one explosive event. This thought got the best of him, so for a time, he stood in the bushes further off the road!
At one point a semi-truck pulled up, lights blaring down on the small car. The two guys who got out looked like characters from a crime novel. Tattooed, burly, and huge, one of them with a black patch over his eye, the other with a scraggly beard, seeing them, my friend feared for his life. Discovering the need for gasoline, they couldn’t help but offered to ask someone to head back.
Meanwhile, the sister did make it to the Rest Stop, and using the pay phone called the number on the AAA card. The operator said, “Ma’am we have no one we can send out this late at night.”
The sister responded, “This is why we have the card so that you will help us!”
Still, the AAA dispatcher said: “But we are unable to dispatch anyone at this hour.”
The conversation went from bad to worse. Finally, the AAA operator offered to contact the sheriff in that area and see if they would bring some gas. Frustrated, the girl began the long trek back to the car.
Once there, another pickup stopped with a small family in it. Emblazoned on the side was “Tom’s Handyman Service.” The young guy who popped out said he would siphon some of his gas from his tank into theirs. This worked and then he followed them to the next town where they could fill up their tank and replenish his. It all worked out. And to this day my friend swears off AAA—as if they were the problem!
That story reminded me of my own story.
My one and only time running out of gas occurred when I was 16 in June 1975. An upperclassman and I were scheduled to drive to San Mateo from Turlock, California, and I was to pick her up. It was summer. I remember awakening to the ongoing, annoying ringing of the phone. I ran downstairs, answered and was shocked, hearing her voice, to then remember I was supposed to be picking her up, and I was 2 hours late. She had called dozens of times!
I threw on clothes, raced downstairs and probably looked and smelled the worse for wear, picked Sharon up in Turlock, who was kinder than I deserved, and we sped out of Turlock, through Modesto, across to the Interstate 5. In the process, we whizzed past a friend and his family heading to the same event. I felt this glee at being ahead of Ken, knowing now I would be vanquished of the shame I felt for having overslept and been so late. Instead of just pulling in behind them and following them to the event, rather, I raced ahead, chattering with Sharon about the event and the day.
We were heading to a special training day preparing for this dream of going to live overseas the next summer. This had been a dream of mine since I was a freshman sitting across from my best buddy Ken (whom I had just passed) in our Physiology class and there had dreamed up the idea of heading to Europe to work after our Junior year of High School.
So Sharon and I traveled, and then the engine began to sputter and to my dismay, as I pulled to the side of the road, I realized, we had run out of gas. We ended up having to walk to the next exit, buy a gas can and gas, walk back, and then drive to the station, fill up the tank, and hit the road again. My glee evaporated, for clearly, we were no longer ahead of schedule. We finally arrived at the event nearly 2 hours late. But at that point, we both decided we felt too ashamed to go in, so, we left and drove all the way back home!
But these experiences prompted me to hear from others:
Anna wrote: My dad once ran out with the truck, towing a boat for delivery on a trailer… as he came into the parking lot for the ferry across Lake Champlain, it was a downhill roll to get on the ferry, and the employees all pushed the truck and boat off the ferry on the other side. Then my mom had to go for gas in the car and bring it back.
I have not yet run out of gas but do have miraculous stories of my tank holding out across many more miles of nowhere than anyone has any right to expect in southern Israel and West Texas… I have been known to push it with that little orange light on.
Bonnie wrote: New Year’s Eve, in Minnesota, at 30 below zero. I ran out of gas at a truck stop restaurant. I guess God didn’t want me to freeze to death looking for gas. I was 20 feet from the pump. That was my first and last time.
Joshua wrote: My mum always fills at half-tank. I try to do the same. I’ve never run out of gas, but perhaps I should sometimes, just for the experience, LOL.
Anna responded: That is a very wise rule for a whole lot of reasons!
Scarlet wrote: During a difficult time in my life financially more often than I would like to admit. However, God always provided.
Debbie wrote: On my way to church 1983 – thankfully the church was close by and I had the stroller in the car so pushing my infant daughter, I could walk the rest of the way. When I told one of the ladies I needed to call my husband and tell him she said: “Oh no dear, you don’t want to do that – get someone else to help you.” I still think that was funny advice. I called Greg (my husband) and after the normal grumbling, he helped get gas. I haven’t done it again – and I will call AAA if I do.
Jean wrote: I have never run out of gas. Been really close a couple of times but where I live now I would be wildlife dinner, that thought doesn’t appeal to me, so I err on the side of a full tank as much as possible! LOL
Christy wrote: August 1986 4am Oakridge. (Can’t you imagine there is a story here?)
Sybella wrote: Had 2 small boys in the car, as we were headed back from seeing Grandma in Novato, CA. It was at night. Didn’t have my gas cap key, and was hoping I wouldn’t run out of gas. We were in an older Vanagon. I Loved it. However, I did run it out of gas, on the freeway with no shoulders and cement edging to keep you from going over! I was stuck! A very nice HWY patrol officer pulled up behind me and using the bullhorn, shouted: “Stay in the car! Put it in neutral – I’ll push you!” God bless him! He pushed me up over an overpass and into the gas station – I pried off the gas cap and got the boys and I got safely home! (And I imagine has not run out of gas again.)
Barbara wrote: 19 years old. Right after our wedding. Barely got around the block from the church…
I loved the last story for all kinds of reasons. Like some of the others above, it had the power of a 6-word story. It said so much with so few words!
I realize that to “run out of gas” is a small thing in the realm of life, but sometimes the littlest things can trip us up. Scripture does say that “The little foxes spoil the vines,” (Songs 2:15). Like walking on the Camino proper and easily walking around and over boulders but then tripping on a small stone in the pathway, small things can trip us up. Indeed, small things can become large if we allow them to be. One negative comment can strike down a day of all positive experiences. One bad moment can erase many good ones. So what’s the secret from all these car experiences? It’s simple, right? Learn to keep the tank fairly full.
This is true in life.
If we are really caring for ourselves, our emotional capacity, our needs, the stuff of our hearts, our spiritual health, if we are really taking time to breathe, to enjoy, to laugh, to play, then when the little rocks in our path do trip us, that’s all it will be. We may even stumble and fall, but we will also have the strength to get up again. Next week I have a story to share on myself when I haven’t done that well…
But for today, like one of the writers above shared: “Err on the side of a full tank.”