The side of the road is one of my least favorite places in the world. Roads, I love. Lately I have traveled many of them visiting people I love, moving to a new house, running errands. Rarely do I bother to glance at the people with me on the road, unless they’re going too slow.
Tonight, though, I spent several hours with a few hundred new friends on the side of the road.
I was supposed to be meeting my sister for a long awaited night out in Atlanta seeing Glennon Melton from Momastery. I was supposed to be enjoying dinner, relaxing, catching up on all of Sister’s gossip. I had put on make-up, rocked a new outfit, and my hair was NOT in a ponytail.
When the cars began to slow down, I got nervous. After sitting in traffic for 10 minutes, I called Sister and said I might be late to dinner. After 30 minutes of having my car parked on I75, I knew my plans were not going to turn out like I thought.
I began to notice the cars around me. People were starting to get out of their cars, probably to avoid overheating. I glanced at the car’s thermometer: 95 degrees.
Sweet Lord of all air conditioning, hear our prayers.
I noticed a conspicuous bus two cars back from me: State Prisoners. In my mind, I wondered if this whole traffic jam was an elaborate escape attempt. I began creating stories about how every other car on the road was related to the prisoners and their role in the escape that was about to happen. No worries, I had a plan. It involved my toddler’s toys around me in the mini-van, clunking the inmates over the head with them. I was sure I’d be on the evening news any minute, but glad I had on something besides my daily fashion choice of yoga pants, flip-flops and ponytail. This mama was ready for anything.
45 minutes. Oh my stars, I prayed for the traffic to budge, for a bathroom, for there to be something to eat in this van of mine.
Lord of goldfish crackers and juice boxes, hear our prayers.
Then I realized I was going to have to turn the car off, like everyone else on the road. This was what I had dreaded. Summer heat and humidity are among my other least favorite things. Windows down, watching people walk around on the highway, I decided maybe the prisoners were not going to escape. But I still used my Macgyver skills to fashion a hairband out of a plastic bag I found in the backseat so I could make a proper ponytail and get my hair up. We were going to be there for a while.
I began to melt inside the car, the sun on my driver’s side. I called my people and told them my fun plans were done. Half-melted, it was time to get out. I walked around to the passenger side door for some shade, and began to watch my fellow travelers. Folks were drifting to the side of the road talking to each other, telling stories. Sweating our brains out, for sure. But talking. I realized, the next time I tried to text, that no one had any phone service. Hmm. I also realized, I could do something. I called to the guys around me and said, “I’m opening up the back door of this van. If you want some shade and a seat, come on over.” Before long, I had three gentlemen, from different cars, perched in the tailgate.
People were offering water bottles from their cars, and in our little part of the highway, we talked. Two ladies enjoyed the shade from the umbrellas in my van. I watched people share magazines to fan themselves with. My little circle of folks represented four different races and ages. We hoped we would get out of this soon; everyone shared the places they had planned to be.
Then a guy asked, “Does anybody have a knife?”
I wondered if I had been right all along about the escape attempt, but it turns out he had something amazing to offer. Someone had a knife, and he used it to slice up a watermelon he had in his car.
A watermelon, y’all.
He offered slices to anyone who wanted it. The sweetness of that fruit we shared right on the side of the road helped us get through the next hour. People laughed. We wondered together what in the world was going on, and how long we would be stuck where we were. We heard each other.
Then people who had walked up to the wreck began to walk back towards us. They said a large truck had driven off the overpass and onto three cars. A helicopter and jaws of life were called in. We were silent for a moment.
Lord, hear our prayers.
In the two hours I sat on the side of the road today, I had to pay attention. At first, I was keenly aware of the thousand things I would rather be doing than being stuck in traffic. I ended up paying attention to the people along this road with me. We shared moments in the shade and had the sweetest communion I’ve had in a while with broken chunks of watermelon. My uncle calls this kind of crowd a “heaping helping of humanity.” Yes, sir. That’s exactly what we were. So, I am whispering a new prayer today:
For those who find themselves stuck when they were speeding towards anywhere but here,
For the person who peeks up ahead and is first to realize, it’s time to roll down the windows and breathe deep because we’re going to be here awhile,
For the man who makes everyone nervous because he’s the first to step out of his car,
Lord, hear our prayers.
For the man on his way to visit his uncle in the hospital,
For the lady who missed her flight out of Atlanta,
For the mom who walked her son into the makeshift bathroom in the woods,
Lord, hear our prayers
For holy interruptions and moments to be still and know a thousand new things
For reminders that conversations can start easily if we roll down the windows
For the man in the Lexus seated next to the man from the pick-up truck in the back of a stranger’s mini-van
And for moments of “Me, too!” and “I know that’s right” that made the summer heat seem bearable
Lord, we give thanks.
For moments to truly see the people on this same road as me
For the lady who held my pink umbrella like it was a parade
For finally being able to move along, carrying with me the lessons from this side of the road
For the holy communion in a chunk of watermelon,
We give thanks and praise.
Lord, hear our prayers.