Maybe So, Maybe Not

Yesterday, I left the house in time to stop for gas and drive across town for a lunch meeting. The expressway entrance is on the same street as this particular gas station. I usually pay for gasoline inside the store but to save time, I decided to use a bank card and pay at the pump.

Well, the first card doesn’t work. Next, I try a debit card. I rarely use it and can’t remember the pin number.  Frustration creeps in.

Obviously my “swiping” skills are deficient. All I get are error messages. No longer on schedule, I go inside the store where the clerk can help me. I just know she probably has a better machine and better swiping skills. She takes the bank card. Midway her transaction she realizes the other card in my hand is a “fuel perks” card. To get the discount, the “fuel perks” card has to be swiped first. Cancel transaction.

I wonder, “Why is this happening to me?”

I swipe the “fuel perks” card first and then the bank card. All is well.

I fuel my gas guzzler. As I reposition myself behind the steering wheel I check the time. If I continue on my journey, I estimate I will be at least 10 minutes late. That is, I will be 10 minutes late if nothing else goes wrong.

As I pull out, heading in the direction of the expressway entrance, an emergency traffic report interrupts my thought process. There is an accident at the entrance to the expressway. Yes, that entrance. As I drive down the hill, I see the police lights and a maze of cars five blocks ahead. I turn off the road, avoiding the inevitable traffic jam. Resigned to my fate, I return home.

Yesterday, it seemed obvious to me that God didn’t want me to attend the meeting. Today, I realize, it wasn’t about the meeting. If getting gas for my car had gone as easily as anticipated, I would have left the gas station after a few minutes and very possibly I could have been part of that accident.

I started remembering stories of people who fell ill or had car trouble and missed their airplane flights —  flights that crashed. Most prominent in my memory are the stories of those who, for some reason, arrived late to work (or not at all) at the World Trade Center, Sept. 11, 2001.

My cousin worked at the World Trade Center. That morning, I knew it was next to impossible to get a long distance call through to New York City. I called my dad. He had recently given up city life for retirement in Virginia. Maybe someone had reached him with her status.

He answered the phone and replied to my concern rather nonchalantly. He said she didn’t work there anymore. She had been laid off the month before.

I am sure, when the lay off happened, it was devastating. A month later, it became a blessing.

Things are not always as they seem. The Chinese proverb, “Maybe So, Maybe Not,” illustrates this best.

One day, a farmer’s horse ran away. His neighbors expressed sympathy, “What terrible luck that you lost your horse!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”

A few days later, the horse returned, leading several wild horses. The neighbors shouted, “Your horse has returned, and brought more with him. What great fortune!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”

Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the wild horses and got thrown to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what a calamity!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”

A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, conscripting all the able-bodied young men for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son because of his broken leg. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”

Photo: The Thinker, Musée Rodin