Monday, August 16, 2010

RE: (NPR) This I Believe, Love Oasis...

Love Oasis
Diane - Grass Valley, California
Entered on January 29, 2010

She looks at me shyly, from under her arm, making long swipes with the squeegee as she cleans the windshield. The middle-aged man wearing a white chef uniform is intent upon his mission of getting gas and so he doesn’t notice what she is doing. Sitting in the car, one gas pump behind them, I notice.

After a minute or two he seems to snap into the moment, taking in her and his surroundings simultaneously, registering a brief moment of surprise. As he goes in to pay she makes one last, clean swipe with a flourish and I spot the “76” station logo on her shirt, bringing to mind that welcoming, whirling orange ball in the sky, beckoning to travelers driving thirsty cars fueled by the American dream and an endless supply of fossil fuel.

Frequently traversing a variety-pack of states on summer vacations I viewed fueling stations as touchstones of humanity in isolated places. I’ve always been fond of that “76” logo, though my favorite, hands down, is still Mobil’s Pegasus, the winged horse. What’s not to love about a horse that can fly?

Me, who hasn’t been able to cry since my father died, this deed makes me cry. The simple gift of cleaning windshields, something everyone used to take for granted, represents an unparalleled rite of giving.

She makes her way over to our car and I’m grinning and crying at the same time, for all the world to see and, of course, she sees. I hear my husband’s melodic voice kiddingly say she can clean our window if she has nothing better to do. She laughs, coughs, and looks through the windshield at me. Now we are both at closer range. My tears pick up speed, coursing down my cheeks as the water does the same, running down the glass.

My husband gets in, turns to me and notices I’m crying, but he isn’t surprised. He says he thinks she wants money and I shake my head vehemently, no, pointing to her logoed shirt as an employee of the gas station.

As I watch her finish up our car ministrations I am suffused with feelings that I can’t quite fathom, but they run along the lines of humbling gratitude. I hop out of the car and we share a moment of silence before she wishes me a Happy New Year and says, “I think this is going to be a good year.”

“Me too,” I reply. Before I tell myself all the reasons why it’s foolish, I throw my arms around her, hugging her as though we’ll never see each other again and, of course, we won’t.

As we drive away, we leave her standing in the middle of the cement gas station island, waving at us as though we’ve just spent the holidays with her and I guess we have because it’s a New Year of hopeful promise. I believe in the power of these seemingly inconsequential encounters and their ability to connect us.


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