“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” Helen Keller
I was driving along the other day, my mind on the errands at hand: return a shirt ordered online, pick up wine and a hot mustard dip for our holiday party, locate a few more stocking stuffers. Brenda Lee was belting out “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” on the CD player, and I was feeling pretty good about crossing off a few more items on my never-ending to-do list. Suddenly Brenda’s voice grew growly, then inaudible. What the? The music blared, deafening, then faded once more, and I knew in that weird way you do that my car was about to seize up. Which it promptly did. Completely. Died. It was a real X-Files moment, the one where people are driving along through endless woods and their car is hit by an electric zap! that literally stops time just before they’re spirited away by aliens. Except I was not on a deserted road. I was on a congested state highway, twenty yards from a major intersection, and no shoulder to pull off the road, even if my car had been capable of limping a few more feet, which it wasn’t.
I tried turning over the engine. Nothing. Ditto for the radio. At least the flashers still worked. Keeping one eye on the endless stream of cars steering wildly around me, I hit “2” on my speed dial. My husband picked up.
“The car just died,” I wailed. “Right on Route 9. I’m sitting here blocking the road and I can’t move.” A large Target truck barreled down on me. I hoped his brakes were working. How much stopping distance does a truck require?
“You have your Triple-A card?” my husband asked.
“Triple-A card,” I repeated, trying to remember if I had put the card in the purse beside me or my turquoise leather bag. Perhaps it was still in the plastic ziplock with the other stuff I left at home when we last traveled overseas.
“I’ll call Triple-A,” my husband said. “And then I’ll come get you.” With these assurances, I flipped through my wallet, found the Triple-A card, then dialed 911 to get a squad car to the scene. Traffic, by now, was seriously snarled. Twenty minutes and a second squad car later, the police had pushed my Ford wagon to the intersection, around the corner, and off the road. My husband arrived shortly after, his red Hyundai cheering me greatly even as he waved and smiled.
“I called Triple-A,” he reported, joining me on the curb. “But the local operation’s small and they won’t be able to get a tow truck here for another hour.” The hour came and went as the afternoon light faded to night and the mist became a steady rain. We called Triple-A again. Were put on hold. Promised the tow truck would only be “five more minutes.” Just as my toes were growing numb, the truck roared out of the dark. I gave the driver instructions on where to take the car. Almost two hours had passed since my husband had arrived. During that time, he never once complained about the interruption to his day, the rain, the interminable wait for the truck. We chatted. We joked. He was, as always, his wonderful, generous self.
It’s all too easy in the mad dash of 21st century life to get caught up in the pressures to do more, be more, especially at the holidays. All the trimmings, the trappings, the stuff. But none of it, none of it is half so important as the people we love. I was reminded of that when my car died on a busy road. I had the Triple-A card, and I eventually did dial 911, but my first call was an emotional SOS to my husband: Something crap has happened and I need you. Knowing you will not be abandoned—you can’t put a price on it, this greatest of gifts.
I count myself lucky in this life to love and be loved by some amazingly wonderful people, dear friends all. This post is for them. As Clarence reminds George in It’s a Wonderful Life: No man is a failure who has friends.