It was about 15 years ago, in a near blizzard, that my wife, I and our two small puppies (my wife’s children) were driving down Rt 22 south toward Pawling NY. The digital dashboard on my Cadillac Deville began to pantomime the car’s slow death by no-gas. I had seen this coming but each gas station I passed had closed early because of the storm. Suddenly an “idiot light”, I had never seen, shouted loudly from my, now neon, flashing dashboard. It said, ‘Short Range” over and over! It was describing the end of the numerical countdown that had sped my heart up. The upcoming gas station was closed and my braking to see the sign started my car sliding. I quickly recovered and began frantically praying as we headed towards Pawling. I knew God could hear one prayer as well as a thousand repetitions but I needed a mantra to calm my growing apprehensions.
My headlights had become cones of illuminated snow as I saw the signs for a gas station in Patterson, that had a brightly lit sign. I pulled in to the vacant pumps, pressed the gas release button on my dash and hopped out gleefully to fill my tank.
As I approached the car with the fuel gun in hand, I noted that the fueling door was closed! I thumbed the button in the car repeatedly but the door stayed shut. Just then I noted the lights being turned out in the station office and my heart again began to race. I tried prying the door open with my finger and a silver quarter from my pocket to no avail. A teenager came out of the station to tell me what I knew, the station was closing. I asked for help and he said, he did not know how to help. He then told me his mom was picking him up in a few minutes and I had to complete my purchase now!
I explained my situation, the wife, dogs, blizzard and warning light but his eyes were blank as if he had not heard me. His ride pulled up slowly from the other direction and he said, ‘I have to close now!” I repeated my concern and asked that he wait and help but his eyes remained nearly unfocused as if staring at a TV set. As I tried to pull some emergency release in the trunk. the lights around me dimmed as he locked the station door. As if I was not there, he climbed into his warm awaiting car and drove off leaving us to become a ghostly memory fading in the heavy snow. It then occurred to me, he had probably pushed the replay button in his mind and so our insignificant danger was reset and his mind’s conscience cleared.
I never got the door open and just had to pray my mantra all the way home. Fortunately the Cadillac designers had programmed a margin of error into the warning and we made it home, up the small mountain in Patterson NY.
The next day I called the owner of the station, whom I had never met. I explained my experience in that frightening stormy night. To my surprise I heard Dale Carnegie’s unknown brother express his concern and desire to compensate me any way possible for my challenge at his station. He further explained how he would speak to the new hire and see that he understood what he had done so casually. I then received a gift card in compensation by mail with a hand written note. This was clearly a man I wanted to meet. Despite the soulless child who closed the door in my face here was the antithesis in warm human form. I did return to this gas station and get to know the owner. I absolutely had to meet someone who could show so much warmth and concern for a stranger over nothing more than a cooper phone wire. It turned out we are friends many years later.
Your soul or your replay button, could be a digital devils demand. However there is a way to escape, books! How do books prevent the death of a soul? Think for a moment. When the new generation communicates by smart phone, computer, tablet, text, email or “face time” how different is the experience from a video game? How easily can the boundaries between the physical world and the imaginary one become blurred? When the young man left us so casually that evening, it occurred to me that he had simply pressed “REPLAY” in his mind and left without a concern for us. Had he read books, like Dale Carnegie’s, become involved in community service groups like Rotary, as the gas station owner was, his “replay” button would have vanished, boundaries would be clear and the pain of others real.
In an era of replay buttons on every social media other than face to face communications, a book, Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends and Influence People” and a community service membership card should be required of every growing child. Not after they have committed a crime as a way of re-education and restitution but as part of the school curriculum when they are beginning to read to learn, in 3rd grade! Humanity can be great if we have a connection to our soul; but, if it this connection is served by the “replay” button, it may never be regained again.