Mepkin Abbey, fifth day

Retreat center courtyard, 5 am. The library is beyond.

Retreat center courtyard, 5 am. The library is beyond.

Friday 30 August:

The “pumps,” continued. Up before my alarm this morning I proved to myself beyond a doubt that the pumps were frogs, as I’d convinced myself from the start that they weren’t. Big frogs, with deep, deep voices, a regularity to their croak that was positively, well, mechanical.

Ate breakfast, packed car, on the road by 5:20. Mepkin Abbey Road to Dr. Evans Road to SC 402 to US 52. I’d been on the road about an hour, still dark, when I came to a somewhat tricky section where my road split left, another continued straight, and a third merged from the right. No traffic, just lots of signs. I maybe took my eye off the road to check the GPS and when I looked up the yellow line dividing the highway had turned into a concrete median. I hit it at 60 mph and flatted my left front tire. Didn’t lose control, pulled over right away, sat there high as a kit on adrenalin.

Calmed down some, called AAA, got the operator to understand that, no, I didn’t know what town I was in, but that I was just north of 375 on 52, I could see myself right there on the GPS. It took quite a while for her to agree that that’s where I was. She called back after a while and said she’d reached a tow truck and that he’d be there in half an hour. Half an hour? No problem. I can easily meditate that long.

No one stops for stopped cars anymore. Everyone figures everyone else has a phone and that they’ve solved their own problem. Which was true, but still. Then a Honda van, driven by an African American woman in her 60s slowed down and pulled over in front of me. I walked over to her passenger window. She said, “Are you having trouble this morning?” I said I was, but that I’d reached AAA and was waiting for help. She smiled and said she hoped I’d have a good day. I wanted to cry.

Pretty much according to schedule, the wrecker appeared. Do you know those Jerr-Dan wreckers with spiffy grills and polished chrome exhausts? This wasn’t that wrecker; this was the wrecker from hell–battered, rusty, greasy, the cab floor littered with the remains of dozens of fast-food meals, as well as several timing belts and other parts I don’t know the names of. (My friend, L.B., who has two young boys, said it sounded like Tow Mater in Cars, which I haven’t seen.)

The wrecker took me to Kingstree, to Cumbee’s Tire Service. The manager (whose card says his nickname is Fuzzy) was waving me off before I even walked in the door. “Why is he bringing you here?” he moaned. “I don’t have a tire for that car. What kind of car is that?” “A Honda Fit.” He got out a pen and pad. “Spell it.” I spelled it. He got on the phone and called a couple of dealers, each time he said Fit saying it with disbelief.

One of Fuzzy’s mechanics, lean and hungry, had jacked up the car and said unequivocally that the rim was too bent to repair. But while Fuzzy was calling around, another mechanic, big and silent, took the rim into the back and was whacking at it with a metal sledge hammer. After not every long, he’d straightened it out. It passed inspection, he put the tire back on, there were no leaks, there was no damage to the axle, he put the wheel back on.

Ringing me up, Fuzzy asked me if I’d seen “the game” the night before. I said “What game?” He cocked his head. “North Carolina-South Carolina.” (Greg or Craig, are you listening?) I said no, I’d been camping. I just didn’t think it would play to say I’d been meditating at an abbey. He asked where. I said near Charleston. He said, “Charleston’s a nice little town, isn’t it? I like Charleston.” Fuzzy charged me $20. i’d’ve paid $200. The whole episode, from flat to fix, took only two hours, and I headed home.

Exegesis: the woman in the van was an angel, checking up on me. The wrecker driver (who charged me $52 cash and didn’t have anything to write a receipt on) was an assistant to the devil. Fuzzy was his accomplice, but he was saved from doing evil by his mechanic, who was Vulcan/Hephaestus, shouldering his way in from another mythological system.

Since getting home I’ve read half of Seven-Storey Mountain and am waiting to read Merton’s Love and LovingMerton by Those Who Knew Him, C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, Gary Wills’s Saint Augustine, and Monastery Guest Houses of North America.

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