November 18, 2018

Stroll on State

On a recent Saturday night my family and I, along with 75,000 friends, went to the “Stroll on State” event in Rockford, Illinois. It was the city’s opening festivity for the Christmas season. For this event, the city shuts down its main stretch on State Street where it goes across the Rock River. They have music playing, ice sculpting and vendors. Normally I am not too into these things, especially without the snow. However, after successfully barricading myself away from Black Friday earlier that weekend I figured a little fresh air would do me good.

It was good to see so many people out with the holiday spirit. Christmas is such a wonderful time of the year. After a horse drawn wagon ride we made our way over to the Christmas tree lighting. That’s when we noticed how crowded downtown Rockford was that evening. We saw the tree light up, the last part of the light show and then fought the crowds to walk back to our car. Visions of cheeseburgers were dancing in my head. After putting my coat in the trunk and getting into my seat I instinctively turned my key in the ignition. Nothing. My wife looked over to me and said “let’s get going!” My response was, “Crap.  The car is not starting.” After a few more tries I was a little concerned. I had power, but no clicking sound of the starter.

One of our few good investments in life is towing service with our insurance company. My wife quickly got on the phone and called for a jump. I looked at her and said that “we may need more than that.” Meaning, of course, a tow to a local mechanic was likely to be required. To summarize, we were 90 minutes from home, cold and stranded on a Saturday night of a holiday weekend. The options were not looking good. My wife asked how we would get home if we had to be towed to a Dodge dealership. My only reply was “Uber or teaching your youngest daughter how to drive to Rockford.” Okay, that meant Uber….

I smiled to myself knowing that earlier in the afternoon I was wondering how I would get back from Rockford if I had car issues. I was not clairvoyant.  My wife deciding not to bring her keys usually meant she will ask me a couple thousand times if I still had mine. Of course, that got me wondering just what I would do if I did lose them in Rockford… Besides, any master planner such as myself assesses the scenarios before they occur…

Meanwhile, while back sitting in the car, my daughter’s boyfriend got out to check the engine. I smiled to myself again knowing this was likely a fruitless task. However, he said that he did hear some clicking when I tried starting the car again so perhaps a simple jump would get us going. Yet in 2017, there are no “simple” jumps anymore. Cars now require more amperage to jump them than they used to need.

It appeared that we were not stranded in a particularly bad part of Rockford, a city known for having “urban troubles.” Nonetheless, it was dark so I locked the car – even waiting for the boyfriend to get back inside before I did it. Christmas spirit I guess… I really didn’t know what to do. I still miss the days when I could call my dad for advice on just about anything. I decided the only thing I could do is just try and relax. A man of anxiety such as me does not bode well in these situations. The last time I checked it was after 7 p.m. so we still had 20 minutes or so to wait for the truck. I wasn’t going to ask my wife again what time it was. Knowing a rosary of the Mater Dolorosa, or the Seven Sorrows devotion, that I learned from the Miles Christi group would take 15 minutes or so I started to pray. I didn’t pray out of panic. I didn’t pray in desperation. No, I prayed simply to control the moment.

About three quarters through the Mater Dolorosa rosary I saw the yellow lights of the tow truck. I opened the driver side window and the driver asked me “what’s going on?” I replied “nothing, I have battery power but the engine will not turn over. Listen.” I turned the ignition and instead of hearing nothing as I expected, I heard and felt the engine start. Holding up my beads I looked at my wife and said “Wow, I didn’t know I had that kind of power!”

The tow truck driver checked the battery and everything looked okay. He commented that starters and ignition switches can be sporadic until they finally go. We asked if he felt it was safe to go home and he felt it was. Of course, I didn’t fill up the gas tank before we left so at some point on the way home we were going to have to fill up the tank with the engine running. I try never to do that. At that moment it didn’t matter. I was thankful to be moving and to have heat. No tow, no Dodge dealership, no Uber, no convincing my high school daughter to drive 90 minutes and come get us. Life was good!

Of course, the next day our car was still running fine. We are not sure why it didn’t start. It’s not worth taking it to a mechanic until the failure is reproducible. Until that time, I think we will be taking the other car on trips over 30 minutes.

During our adventure and as the tow truck was arriving, I opened the locked door driver side door and set off the car alarm. Reacting quickly to the startling honking and lights, I hit the switch on my key which reset the remote starter. This may have cleared the electronics to start the car. Or simply, it was my miracle of prayer that got my engine running. Who knows?

Ignatius reminds us to look for God in all things. Not to look solely at the happy events in our lives but on the challenging and sad events as well. It doesn’t matter to me how the car started. My reflection was the joy of turning to prayer to calm my storm. Perhaps my turning to prayer instead of shouting or managing my response to an uncontrollable situation was the real miracle here. Does it matter? I prayed in a situation where I have seldom turned to prayer before.

Ignatius was right. Searching for God in our everyday lives can put a new perspective on how we go about living. Prayer is meant to be central to our lives and not only on the fringes. It should be our default, not our exception.

Advent is a great season to spend time to reflect and in prayer. It is a time to get away from the noise of our lives and listen for the whisper of God. I don’t need a miracle for this. All too often I just need to get stuck in Rockford.

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Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster

REVEREND DR. GREGORY WEBSTER is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He was ordained to the Permanent Diaconate by Francis Cardinal George in May 2014 and is assigned to St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Old Mill Creek, Illinois. Deacon Greg holds a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Northern Illinois University, M.A. in Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary and an M.A. in Bioethics and Health Policy from Loyola University of Chicago. Deacon Greg and his wife have been married more than twenty-five years and are blessed with three beautiful daughters and two pretty cool terriers.

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Written by Deacon Gregory Webster