I Just Ripped the Hose out of the Pump at the Gas Station

Reflections on disorientation

A few weeks ago I stopped for gas on my way out of town with my wife. I dropped her off at a coffee shop around the corner first, so she could get some lattés, and I pulled into the gas station, which was bustling with customers apparently having the same idea to head up into the mountains during this crazy time of COVID.

I inserted the nozzle into my fuel filler neck (I had to look up that term for the purpose of telling this story), then walked around using the squeegee to get my windshield clean, a routine I’ve performed successfully thousands of times. As I finished, I hopped behind the wheel, and drove off. I immediately heard a loud, metallic clanging sound behind me, and I thought “What did I just drive over?” Looking in my side view mirror, I saw the hose on the ground, lying there motionless like a dead snake.

If you were ever wondering, “what sort of person would drive off with the nozzle still inserted in the fuel filler neck?” – well, now you know. A me sort of person.

Please note, I am not prone to accidents, forgetfulness, inattention, losing my keys, or anything of the sort. This was out of character, and a biggie.

I quickly parked the car and inspected the pump, half expecting a gusher of gasoline. I dragged the hose back to the pump (“Maybe no one will notice…”), then decided, after a brief moment pondering just driving off in my getaway car, to tell someone in the gas station what I had done, offering to pay etc. The cashier said, “Oh no worries, the hoses are meant to come off. Happens all the time. Thanks for being honest.”

Happens all the time?? Well, not to me.

Disorientation. Defined simply as “the condition of having lost one’s sense of direction”. Broadened a bit I believe it can encompass many of the emotions and inner space we experience when we are jarred by some kind of trauma, bad news, or disruption. For many of us – dare I say, all of us – this pandemic we are all navigating is such an event. Without going into the full menu of interpretations and opinions about what is going on, at the very least we are walking through a new normal that feels anything but normal.

What is your experience of disorientation? An increased forgetfulness? A lack of focus and drive at work or in projects? Difficulty staying engaged in conversation? An uncharacteristic aversion to making any kind of decisions?

Perfectly normal.

We were never intended to live without connection, order, symmetry, or other orienting means that help keep our feet on the ground and enable us to be fully present to our own lives. So, what to do with our experience with disorientation?

As I write this, we are just past the Christmas season, a time where many of us have all kinds of traditions, gatherings, family events and more. While many of these were threatened by COVID, the event of Christmas – the obscure birth of a Jewish baby centuries ago – is more relevant, solid, and orienting than ever.

In some recent reading in John’s gospel, I found this little gem of a statement by Jesus: “I came from God and I am here.” (John 8:42)

This 8-word statement is a wow for me, especially the last three monosyllables: I. am. Here.

There it is. The essence of the Christmas story for the Christ-follower. God comes here. Whatever our “here” is, Jesus stands smack dab in the middle of it. In a time of disorientation, He is our orientation, a North Star for our weary, confused souls.

God’s here-ness – demonstrated so mysteriously and tangibly in the birth and life of Jesus – is the ultimate alignment and grounding for our personal vertigo in times of stress. When precious little feels solid, predictable, or certain, I can remember His words: “I am here.”

I find that even a few minutes each morning of opening myself to His presence, His being “with us,” can begin to center my soul, quiet my thoughts, and settle my heart.

And, of course, I’m being a tad more careful at the gas station…

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