My Vocation Story: Saint Clare visits along I-5

Driving motorcoaches has been a longheld passion that was also my “bread and butter” from ’92-‘2000.  I drove for Gray Line of Alaska and for Gray Line of Seattle that led me to some of the most beautiful vacation destinations in the Pacific Northwest.  My last charter tour stands out most prominently and the one when St. Clare chased me down in a most dramatic way.  Four years before my last Northwest tour I was vacationing in Italy with a busload of church ladies from Florida.  One holy woman named “Anne” prayed over me and commented, “Oh dearie, St. Clare will visit you in a most special way” spoken in a Scottish brogue, and motherly tenderness I’ll never forget.  Fast forward to the year 2000 when a most excellent 28 day tour was underway with the finest travelers a motorcoach commander could ever wish for – travelers from Springfield, Ohio of course.  On day 28, traveling the return leg of a National Park tour from San Francisco to Seattle, only 60 miles from home base, I coasted to a stop along the busy I-5 freeway, no engine sound, no air conditioning, no power.  My engine was dead, and the worried faces of 48 passengers were staring into my rear view mirror.  I asked the people to sit tight while I take a look at the engine.  Before I could open the engine doors a friendly guy approached in blue grease-soiled coveralls and asks, “need a diesel mechanic?”  “Yes” I plead, and explain the thing just stopped working and coasted up this off ramp and came to rest here at this turnout.  Unsure of the problem, since I’m a driver and not a mechanic, I let the professional diagnose.  “You’re probably out of fuel by the looks of it,” the mechanic tells me.  “No I protest, it must be something else cause this thing holds 222 gallons, I’ve plenty of fuel for sure.”  While I’m rationalizing my poor decision-making skills that put me stranded on the shoulder of the road, the mechanic casually unscrews the fuel filter and invites me to inspect the bone dry filter . . . “no fuel makes a bus no go.”  Full to the berm with denial I plead my case, “No, no this cannot be possible.  See it must be a fuel pump that went bad because I know there is fuel in this thing, I fuelled it myself just a few days ago.”  The kind guardian angel mechanic tells me, “no worries I’ve got a 50 gallon barrel of diesel fuel in the bed of my pickup truck, I can prime the engine and get you rollin’ down the road.” 30 minutes later I’m refueling the 222 gallon tank of the premium MCI J4500 coach as all the passengers watch.  Many inquiring passengers later ask if I ran out fuel, “NO” I declare, “it was some mechanical failure but that kind mechanic fixed the problem.”  (I was still in denial of my mathematical oversight).  24 hours later my boss handed me a pink slip quoting the union contract “an empty fuel tank will never keep a bus driver gainfully employed, especially when it’s the professional’s miscalculation.”  Suffering rejection, disappointment, and self-contempt I was licking my wounds and looking to family for support when my big brother “the family prophet” asks me, “what day exactly was the day you ran out of fuel?”  Well it was August 11th, 2000.  My brother enthusiastically brightens, “and you surely know whose feast day falls on August 11th?”  Shaking my head in frustration, “You know how I am with calendar dates.”  Brian enlightens me, “That is the Feast day of St. Clare, the one who was predicted to visit you in a special way.”  Body slammed by my brother’s insight, providence gave me the 1-2-3 TKO (total knock out).  I was floored!

Thus begins my personal call to be a follower of the Franciscan life that began on the shoulder of the I-5 freeway.  Thank you God for running my ambitious fuel tank dry and also for sending me a most dramatic companion St. Clare.  Can I call her the patron saint for roadside assistance?

Downshifting

Over ten years as a professional driver I have piled up over a million miles of safe accident free driving, thanks be to God and some great instructors.  Driving “big rigs” over the mountains places the greatest strain to an engine and to ease that strain drivers utilize a principle called “downshifting,” or shifting the engine to a lower gear.  The engine in the proper gear works most efficiently and provides good health to a long lasting engine.  The rule for mountains is this: the same gear a big vehicle uses traveling up a hill, is the same gear the vehicle uses going downhill.  The engine when maximized to its potential works best for the driver and the safety of others on the road.  I observe many frantic drivers filling our roads in dire need of downshifting.

Indiana may not have many mountains, but there are several mountain sized projects that can wear down the everyday engine.  One manner of tackling these metaphorical mountains is to voluntarily change to a lighter work schedule to maximize your free time spent away from work.  An optimal time to put “downshifting” into practice is during summer time.  We have many outside distractions to entice our efforts to complete work tasks and enjoy more free time. One way to apply the spirituality of downshifting is to schedule a start time and end time to a work period and avoid doing more or less than your allotted time.  For example, I will put my nose into high gear for 2 hours on this big project, and then I’m going to stop and enjoy some recreation at a nearby Indiana State Park.  The idea is to be consistent with your daily project and not overdo or overheat your engine.  In the summer many vehicles will pull over to check for “hot breaks” or over heated engines.  The same is true of the human engine.  It never hurts to schedule some down time in our busy summer schedules.  Many mountains get placed in our paths and eventually put our tired engines in the repair shop for weeks.  Rather than wait for the inevitable breakdown from an overworked engine, plan ahead for some sacred downtime to rest your engines.  Stop by church to pray before your favorite stained glass window, read a spiritual classic in your favorite outdoor chair, schedule an evening shoreline sunset, find the nearest summertime planet in a star filled sky, or plant yourself by a window and do some serious daydreaming.  These days are called the “lazy days of summer” for good reason. 

I remember our cherished annual summer vacation spot when our family of five would drive up to Glenn Arbor, MI (near the pinkie of the hand mitten shaped state of Michigan.)  We would often visit Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, swim on the beach of Lake Michigan, and enjoy summer pursuits like fishing, hiking, or playing tennis.  These were sacred times for the family because we drew nearer to each other, we spoke more about the books we were reading, and spent more time laughing and playing around than any other time of the year.  We were separated from our normal work routine, and enjoyed the sacred downtime to rest our little engines. 

Our summer time always falls in the liturgical season of “Ordinary Time.”  Ordinary Time can have the illusion of being dull, uneventful, or unimpressive.   I would argue that every extraordinary event is preceded by a period of ordinary time when things plug along in a seemingly every day, normal manner.   What is God calling you to during this ordinary time of summer?  Are you in need of some spiritual downshifting or some sacred time away to rest a while?   Let’s take advantage of the lazy days of summer and find the proper gear to shift our engines for the long haul.