“Mr. Allen,” came the alarmingly soothing voice of the VW Service Manager, “we have found the fuel leak, but we will have to take out the fuel tank to ascertain the nature of the problem. It will cost $545.00 for us to do that, would you like us to proceed?”
“Mr. Allen,” said Scary-Smooth, “we have found the problem. The quote to replace the (sender-pump-something) will be $1235.00, would you like us to proceed?”
45 minutes before the Taxi was due to collect us for our annual Melbourne foray the excellent respite facility where Little One stays rang. Our girl had been badly bitten by another young client. She wanted to come home, she was very distressed. The staff, who we trust, were distraught an apologetic; but felt that she would be OK. A heart wrenching decision, with subtleties that only a parent accessing respite care might recognise. With discussion and prayer we decide not to bring her home. Instead we call on our very kind neighbours who will deliver some of Little One’s treasures, and a small gift.
We were now running well behind in our packing, and my last minute adjustments to Bugger. We have never taken the old manual wheelchair on a train. We decide to delay the Taxi by 15 minutes, still leaving 25 minutes to drive to the station. The dispatch lady was sure that would be fine.
But it was not fine at all. The Taxi was 5 … 8 … 10 minutes late, and we rang to learn that a Wheelchair Taxi was still not available. We called the station; the train was on time and leaving in 15 minutes. 5 more anxious minutes pass. What to do! Our own vehicle was indisposed while it’s gold-plated sender-pump-something was being fitted, and we would need a big vehicle. With 10 minutes until departure we cancelled the Taxi and called a school colleague with a 4WD.
By the time we left home, the train had left town. Comparing the timetable with driving times to towns down the line it looked as though the train would beat us by 10 minutes at the very least. We found a phone number for a station coming up, and agreed to deploy the secret weapons! These are they: ‘wheelchair’, ‘ventilator’, ‘respite’, and the big gun: … ‘down syndrome’. These words are an arsenal of motivation when dealing with officialdom. But they were unnecessary! Our train had been delayed by a freight train! The very charming, very elderly Station Mistress at Chiltern directed us to platform 2; which, oddly, is not opposite platform 1. It’s back up the line a bit. Which meant that minutes later when our train pulled into platform 1, we had to move fast! The train driver saw us running (and pushing) and gave a reassuring waive from his window. We were going to Melbourne!
After a sublime weekend including a clarion performance by the MSO of Handel’s Messiah; church and lunch with great fiends; carols in the cathedral and a delicious Monday with family, we turned for home.
“Well”, said the conductor on Southern Cross Station, “You’re not on my list!”
Obligingly he rang and quoted our booking number; and conveyed to us that because we had not attended Wodonga Station three days earlier and collected our tickets, our booking had been cancelled. Once more the secret weapons came to mind, but the look on our faces must have been enough. “There’s a wheelchair space in economy you can have”. A wheelchair space with a fold down seat for Favourite Wife and a family of four unbelievably riotous children that drove her nearly to dementia for four long hours.
“If you can be here in ten minutes”, said Scary-Smooth at 5.21pm, “you can pick up your vehicle”.
The $1235.00 was hard to pay. Not because it hurt; but because I had dropped my wallet at the railway station in Melbourne 6 hours earlier, and had cancelled our cards.
Favourite Wife bought fuel, as instructed by Scary-Smooth, across the road from the service centre. The vehicle would not start. The VW peeps at had gone home. The lights were out. The gates were shut. The phone rang out. She called a tow truck.
Little One bailed up one of the Paramedics in our lounge room, and in her rather tricky diction confessed to having dialled “Oohhh Oohhh Oohhhhhh” at school one day. And how that was a very naughty thing. The Paramedic was wonderful, and handled the moment beautifully, but she really did have to get back to the main event: Favourite Wife, semi conscious on the floor after tripping and putting her hand through a pane of glass. Fortunately we have the most amazing neighbours, one a nurse. They were on hand first, then the Paramedics, quickly followed by a terrific teacher from our school who came out readily at 10pm, disentangled Little One from the scene, gently distracted her from her determination to ride in the ambulance, and finally took her home for the night. We were fortunate indeed that it ended around 2am with only 8 stitches.
Someone joked that we must have killed a Chinaman in another life; (a statement that is probably the utter antithesis of our faith). But it started me thinking, what do I believe about compounded misfortune? I know of another family who endured excruciating difficulty at this time of year; good people, on a business trip. They didn’t pre-book accommodation; she was expecting (very expecting!); they had travelled a long way by donkey. A donkey. Imagine it! As the last light seeped from the sky, courage drained from their hearts, and both began to entertain private, fearsome doubts about themselves, about the chid, about each other, about everything and anything.
Peace & Goodwill in Australia is a cool beer on a public holiday; and our notion of God’s gift is alarmingly close to our personal aspirations. Peace, we think, has to do with circumstance. But is the peace we hanker for the Peace He came to bring? Or is His Peace the returning confidence that He has come, He is here, He will come again.