On my day off

Yesterday was a day off for me and I had two vehicles that needed minor preventive maintenance, so had scheduled both to go to the shop, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. So I spent a couple of hours in automobile dealerships yesterday, something that I don’t do too often. I was, of course, met by the up sell in both dealerships. After being quoted a price for the service recommended by the owner’s manual, both dealerships came up with another small item that needed to be addressed. First of all both tried to sell me tire rotation and balance. Because we get that service free from the shop where we bought our tires, I don’t need to pay the dealer for the same service. One tried to tell me that their records indicated that I was due for the service. I informed them that they don’t have all of the records when it comes to the tires on my car. The up sell was gentle and the service advisor backed right down. Then, a few minutes later, it was my battery terminals were showing some corrosion. They could service the batteries for an attentional $20. Since testing the batteries is part of their vehicle inspection, one would think that they might be able to to take the extra ten minutes to clean the terminals for less than $20, but I guess not.

The entire business of automobile maintenance is very different than once was the case. When I was growing up, the service department in our shop was seen as key to sales. If we provided excellent service at a fair price, we could earn repeat business from our customers. These days, the shop operates almost as a separate enterprise and profit center for the dealership.

But I have no interest in bashing automobile dealerships or talking about the way things used to be (OK Boomer).

What was interesting to me is that I had engaging conversations while I was waiting in the customer waiting area at both dealerships. In one I noticed that a member of our church was also there for service and enjoyed talking about the previous day’s actives with her while we both waited for our cars. There were plenty of things to talk about and soon we were anticipating the coming Christmas season and other events that are planned for the coming year at the church. The time went by quickly while we were talking and soon her car was ready. There was a sense that we would have enjoyed talking for a longer period of time if we had the opportunity.

At the other dealership, I was approached by a stranger who asked about the jacket that I was wearing. The jacket is from this year’s suicide survivor’s walk, which was held in May. After explaining the jacket and giving some information about the Front Porch Coalition, our suicide prevention group, the conversation turned into her story of her experience with suicide. As is the usual case with survivors, she has a very tragic story with overwhelming grief and pain and loss. She wasn’t being overly dramatic, simply telling a bit of her experience. We were two people making a connection around a topic that isn’t always welcome in every setting. There is still a lot of stigma attached to suicide and those who are grieving suicide loss learn to be guarded when speaking of their sorrow. Some who hear are quick to offer simple solutions or trite phrases that seem to minimize the loss. They have heard “It was his time,” or “God needed another angel,” so many times that they don’t need to hear that again. People mean well, but the often don’t know what to say and too often they say the wrong thing.

I have learned, through many years of working with survivors, that they are not asking me to fix their pain. They are not asking me to give them meaning. They are simply wanting to share their story and have it received. The loved one whom they’ve lost left a hole in their lives that can never be filled and sometimes you need to just talk about that person. Sometimes you need to be able to talk about that person without having to apologize for the way he or she died.

Such a conversation, however, renders the rest of the business of the car dealership pretty banal by comparison. My pickup got finished and I asked the service advisor to wait because we needed to talk a bit more. I spent more time at the dealership than I’d planned, but I had the time to invest and the conversation was well worth my time. I gave the person more information about the Front Porch Coalition and invited her to contact our office and get to know about the programs and projects of the Coalition. It was a worthwhile visit. It was also a chance encounter that was deeply meaningful.

The two encounters are representative of many conversations that I’ve had over the course of my working life. I don’t want to have missed out on either of them. On the other hand they illustrate the challenge of taking time for rest and recreation. Yesterday was my day off. I spent part of it doing what I do when I am working. It is simply impossible to maintain rigid barriers between work and recreation in my profession. I know that this is hard for the lay members of my congregation to understand, because they too have significant conversations in unexpected places. If you spend your days turning wrenches and working on cars, a conversation with another interested and interesting person doesn’t seem much like work at all. What could be the problem with taking a few minutes even if it is you day off? I get it. And, to be truthful, I don’t see it as a problem. The work of the church doesn’t follow a schedule or a time clock. I have been hired not to accomplish a list of tasks, but to be present for the people of God.

My hair is pretty short. It isn’t very dramatic when I let it down. The distinction between work and recreation is subtle. Sometimes you can’t even tell that I’m working. I suspect that when my time comes, my retirement will also be gentle. Part of what I intend is to keep doing what I am doing now.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!