By Shelley Powers
From the rust around its edges, the little screw had to have fallen onto a roadway in Northeast Jackson, Mississippi, a long time ago.
It fell, and there it sat in the rain and sleet for goodness knows how long until this past weekend when this tiny piece of metal set into action a whirlwind of emotions that took me through self-pity, frustration with mankind, and, ultimately, a thankful heart for the life God gave me.
But I digress…this story actually begins with the tuba. Two tubas, to be exact.
Have you ever listened to a tuba? You’ve probably heard one, but more than likely, it was softly undergirding an entire band or orchestra. I really want you to consider whether you have ever just listened to the tuba…by itself…in stereo. Well, I have, and I can assure you, it’s everything you’d think it would be and more.
Oh, so much more.
Last Saturday provided Jackson with its first break in the rainy weather in what felt like eons. I took advantage of the clear skies to clean up my yard and house. As I cleaned, I was keenly aware of the two tuba players down the street who were blatting out strains of the bass line to songs that might have very well been toe-tapping…had 100 other instruments been playing along.
But, instead, all I was serenaded by was WAAHMP WAHMP WAAAAAAAAAAAAHMP. I tried to just ignore it.
The kids played for about an hour that morning then quit. I was at peace. And then, after lunch, they promptly started again. I, again, wasn’t at peace, but was still determined to ignore it and go about my day. I finished cleaning, showered, and went grocery shopping, driving first to Sonic for a coney and tots to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful day.
It was 5:30 p.m. as I pulled up to my house after my excursion, and the kids had moved from their house to right in front of mine, both bells facing my little abode.
WAAAHMP!! WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHMP WAAHMP!
I was not happy at all.
Before I had a chance to even think twice or unload my car, I found myself marching across the street and right up to the two teenage boys. In the nicest but most firm voice I could muster, I told them to finish up within an hour and head home. I explained that, while I was a fellow band geek and I applauded their dedication to practice, my house was right across the street and I had been listening to them all day.
As I walked back to my house, I looked over my shoulder and they had moved away. I felt relieved.
Then at 7 p.m.: WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHMMMMMMMMMMP!
I wanted to cry.
I called a neighbor to see if she would volunteer her husband to talk to the kids. The only thing she volunteered was advice: “Call the police.”
After protesting that I didn’t want to call the cops on band kids, she explained that that’s what she always does. So, I begrudgingly called the precinct. And with the carjackings, burglaries, and shootings that keep our cops busy in Jackson, it was obvious that the weary officer I spoke with felt a tuba complaint was the last thing he needed to worry about on a Saturday evening.
I got off the phone and felt completely alone and angry.
Saturday nights for a spinster are bad. But Saturday nights calling the cops to report tuba-playing teenagers are the worst.
Those kids didn’t seem to give a flip. My neighbor didn’t seem to give a flip. The cops didn’t seem to give a flip.
I no longer wanted to cry. I did cry. It was pretty pitiful.
Thankfully, my friend Bob and my brother Ben kept me talking on the phone—one call after the other—until the last horn sounded and I was able to fall asleep.
Early the next morning, I got up to make a breakfast casserole for my Sunday School class and prepare the lesson I was to teach (ironically enough, on “forgiveness”). After an hour of chopping, measuring, and mixing, the casserole was in the oven and I stepped outside to feed one of the four feral cats who call my carport home.
As I headed back inside, I couldn’t help but notice that my car looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The back right tire was so flat that it appeared to have melted into a rubber pancake.
I hate to admit this, but my first thought was that the kids had flattened my tire as retribution for my complaints.
I got on my phone and started texting and calling anyone who would offer me sympathy.
My friend, Mandi, immediately offered up her husband, Danny, to come help. My friend, Kari, offered to cover the breakfast I had promised to bring by picking up donuts. Bob also offered to come help (which I accepted). Ben texted back words of encouragement from his home in Memphis and reminded me that the tires, which my family bought me last year as a birthday gift, were under warranty and could be fixed for free. My dad, who lives in Biloxi with my mom, gave me calm reassurance over the phone and reminded me of the air compressor he had bought me a few years ago at Christmas (which I, apparently, had completely forgotten about, as, I’m sure, I had tossed it aside like the pack of underwear you get from your grandmother on Christmas morning…sorry, Pop).
But I couldn’t truly appreciate all these kind and generous gestures, as my focus kept returning to whether or not I had been vandalized.
Bob came and picked me up and took me to church so that I could deliver my casserole and Sunday School lesson. Kari drove me to a meeting after church. Mandi drove me all the way home after the meeting. And then Dad got back on the phone with me and talked me through using the air compressor.
I was so anxious to see if my tire had something in it. I didn’t want the boys to have damaged it. I wanted so badly to find a nail or something so that I wouldn’t keep thinking the worst of these kids. My emotions hung on what I would see when the tire was re-inflated.
After about 20 minutes of the little compressor whirring and rattling, the tire filled and I was able to fully inspect it. There, stuck in the treads, was the little rusty screw, and I finally calmed down. I had run over the problem somewhere around town. I don’t even know when or exactly where. There hadn’t been any vandalizing…except for what I had done to myself by driving over that piece of metal and by driving myself crazy with unwarranted concerns.
I believe we all vandalize ourselves far greater than the world around us vandalizes us. We’re so quick to blame others for our problems or refuse to see that we bring much of our frustrations on ourselves.
All those teenage boys knew of me was that I was some lady complaining. I never took time to get to know them; to show them the love of Christ. Christ always took time with others, especially those others who many people didn’t want to be bothered with. I can’t expect someone to know me if I don’t get to know them.
I felt alone when I wasn’t. I felt the boys, my neighbor, and the cop disregarded me because I was white and they were black, and this was incredibly wrong to assume. I shouldn’t infer what others are thinking based on my emotions.
God blessed me with those tuba players so they would show me that I have a lot to learn about accepting others. And He blessed me again when He placed that little screw in my path so that I would be reminded that people are good and not bad; not only did the boys not vandalize me, look at how many people offered to help me!
That tiny screw also taught me that feeling sorry for myself is completely unproductive and selfish. God has provided me with a wealth of resources and loved ones. My thanks to Him should be that I am a generous and loving resource to others.
When Monday rolled around, Bob came back to my house early in the morning to follow me to the tire store (a big shout out to David at Gateway Tire and Service Center in Ridgeland, MS, for the wonderful service and for digging the screw out of the trash so this weirdo could take a picture of it). And then my dear friend Bob drove me to work and, despite an offer from my co-worker and friend Mary, Bob returned at day’s end to take me to get my car.
I am so thankful for those tuba players, that little screw, the flat tire, my friends, my family, tire warranties, friendly shopkeepers, delicious casseroles, Sunday School lessons, my church, and my salvation. And mostly I’m thankful that God allowed me to see past my self-pity and realize that life is what you make it, no matter what song is playing.