Our van broke down today. Again.
It's not headline news. But it is the sort of disruption that lets you know exactly how much you control in life: which is to say, not much. Except your responses. You control them, mostly. My response was to cuss and pray and ask the kids to be quiet all in a single breath, repeatedly. This is my standard initial response to the most disruptive disruptions, which is probably telling.
He--the van, knighted Speedy Spencer about a decade ago--suddenly turned on all his warning lights and stopped accelerating on the way home from the library. We coasted into the repair shop, the breaks still worked this time (thank you, God. Curse you, Speedy Spencer). I threw the keys at the mechanic, told him to call Builder-husband when he had news, which we presumed would be bad, and herded the kids outside to the empty lawn chairs hugged up on the cement curb, library books in hand.
We waited outside for Uncle Karl to come rescue us. Again.
Little girl grew restless while we waited. I talked to her in parentheses while on the phone with Builder-husband, don't all parents talk in parentheses?
"I'm fine, Karl's coming to get us. The mechanic thinks (Jo, I don't have any water.) it might be the battery (I'm sorry you're bored, sweetie.) or the alternator."
A vacant lot stood between the auto shop and the neighboring gas station. It was overgrown with weeds. An older woman with salt and pepper hair combed into a neat chin-length bob sat down next to us.
"I know we just had it in last week. (Why don't you go pick flowers over there? I see some dandelions. Make sure to stay back from the road.) Do you think (Dandelions aren't boring flowers.) it's time to replace it?"
The older woman spoke softly to Little Girl, "I see some orange buttercups over there. Do you see them? Have you ever picked those before?"
"I know, I'm not quite ready to admit defeat either, but I just want a reliable vehicle, especially when I'm out with the kids. And we keep dumping money into this one. It's worth a thought."
Little Girl thrust a bouquet of buttercups into my hand and skipped off to pick more. I smiled and nodded to the woman next to me, who returned it, a knowing look in her eyes: I had stopped speaking in parentheses.
In every moment of breakdown, there is always surprising provision and beauty.
A stranger who sat beside me, stranded herself, became part of my tribe simply because she was proximal to me and was present enough to notice what I needed in that moment without judgment or awkwardness.
A grassy, vacant lot became a meadow of butter cups.
So if and when things are breaking down again (and they are, always, somewhere), remember these steps.
1) pray, cuss, ask for quiet
2) remember to look for the beauty and the provision (it is always there, somewhere)
3) name it and accept it when you see it