Filling up with Bob
“One person can’t change the whole world.
But one person can change the whole world of another person.”
I decided to pull into the wholesale gas station. Might as well, even though I only needed half a tank, I was already in town and gas was cheaper here. I leaned against the car and watched the numbers click away behind the Plexiglas. Filling up wouldn’t take long.
When the attendant saw me, he slowly made his way over, nodded and greeted me with a gentle, “Thanks for stopping in.” He wore a yellow vest and a baseball cap. The bill reached over his thin framed glasses. His face was covered with a light blue disposable mask and his hands with latex gloves. From what I could see of his face, I guessed him in his late fifties. I acknowledged him with a “How are you today?” not realizing, the ensuing conversation would leave me changed for a long time.
There are two types of how-are-you. If a person is in a hurry, the question can be asked once. It is a rhetorical question. The recipient knows not to intrude with an honest answer and says, “Fine.” Both parties move on knowing they did the polite thing.
But then there is a different how-are-you. If a person is sincerely interested in wanting to know, she immediately follows the first how-are-you with another question quite similar. Nobody ever gets an honest answer after asking just once.
I found myself asking, without thinking, one of those follow-up questions. “How are you doing with all of the changes these days?” He looked at me as he folded his hands together to straighten the loose fitting gloves.
“Now, they make us wear these even outside!” He pointed to his mask and pulled it over his nose.
“How is that going?” I asked.
He took a step closer to my car, still careful to mind his distance.
“I am ok with it. I am compromised and have to watch myself.” He said with a slight sadness in his voice.
“Oh. Are you sick?” I asked, trying not to dismiss nor intrude.
“Well. I … have cancer. I don’t think I would do well catching the virus,” he said
I checked the meter. I still had a way to go.
“Oh no. I am so sorry. Do you have a good support system? People who help you?” I asked.
“Well … No … I mean … this might be too much information … but … my wife died three weeks ago. I have family. But she was always there for me.”
I looked at his nametag.
“Bob … I am so sorry. I can’t even imagine.” My words stuck in my throat. I didn’t know how to react.
“It would be her birthday in two days.” His voice cracked.
“I am so sorry. May I share something?” I said, and took a deep breath. “When I don’t know what to do or when I come across a difficult situation I can’t handle, I pray and ask Jesus for help.”
His eyes squinted just a little behind his glasses. I could tell he was smiling. “Oh yes. Without the Lord I wouldn’t be here.”
Now I smiled at him, too.
He continued, “I wasn’t going to come to work but I couldn’t handle it at home any more. I needed to get out.”
The moment overwhelmed me. Despite mask and gloves, despite Bob and I being strangers, despite a sense of turmoil and unimaginable grief, there was a deep sense of peace. It was a connection between humans. I felt it. It filled the moment. It happened regardless of the layers of polypropylene and a surgical mask. “Bob, I am so grateful you came to work. I am blessed I got to know you. I will pray for you.”
I could see his eyes smiling as he nodded. “Thank you.” With a loud snap the fuel nozzle stopped. I hung it in its place and got in the car. Tears flowed as I drove down the busy highway. The saying is true, “The shortest distance between two people is a story.” While Bob may have been there to help me fill up my car, he did much more. He allowed God to use him to show us both the power of a few minutes.