Nora’s watch buzzed rhythmically at noon. With a groan, she reached one hand over the other on her car’s steering wheel to snooze it like she had been every day for . . . she couldn’t remember how long. She was barely out of her office’s parking garage and already disastrously late for her dentist appointment.
She pulled onto the street, considering how many things her watch suggested she do that she couldn’t find the time for. Pray the Angelus, for one. She also wasn’t getting enough sleep, getting enough steps in, or even getting up to stretch her legs often enough, according to this painfully expensive guilt trip.
Who cares? she told herself, vowing for the umpteenth time to just take the watch off and swap it for a simpler timepiece that did only the job it was originally created for. Not that it would help her get anywhere on time, but at least she’d remove the pressure of someone else’s algorithm from a life that already felt out of control.
Traffic slowed to a near halt. Nora glanced down at the garbage bag stuffed with empty to-go cups she’d been meaning to take out. A faint smell of coffee lingered in the front seat. She imagined she could will herself to inhale the vestiges of caffeine. Maybe that would get her through the rest of this day. She ignored the voice in the back of her mind that wondered what would get her through the next.
The clock on the dashboard read twelve ten, but she quickly did the mental math to account for the eight minutes she’d set it ahead, hoping to trick herself into timeliness. At this rate, she’d be too late to be seen, which meant she’d have to take time off work another day, her intermittent toothache would stick around until she made yet another appointment, andshe’d have to pay the office’s $35 fee for missing her slot in the doctor’s schedule.
She might as well just turn around now and use the extra office time to make her way through her inbox. But traffic slowed still further, and she was forced to come to a complete stop. Fabulous. Note to self: Add late fees as line item to monthly budget.
“Ugh, why is this happening to me? God!” She let herself nearly scream the words.
She was alone in the car, but the voice was as clear as if someone were sitting next to her. She tapped her phone to see if it had randomly decided to play a podcast for a millisecond. When that proved impossible as an explanation for the sound, she looked to the car stopped beside her on the right. The driver was nodding along to some kind of slow-paced music and was totally uninterested in what was happening in Nora’s car. Traffic was flowing on the other side of the road, so the voice certainly hadn’t come from that direction.
She shook her head and turned on the radio, thinking to make a game of finding the station her fellow driver was grooving to. But every station was static. She shifted the car forward a few inches and tried again. All still static. Weird. Normally this section of highway wasn’t a problem.
Nora switched the radio off and reached for her phone to intentionally load a podcast. She scrolled through her subscriptions, but nothing felt right. In fact, some of her favorites felt somehow wrong, and she nearly deleted them on the spot. It didn’t make sense, but she figured she was just overtired. She hadn’t slept well in months. She tossed her phone back onto the passenger seat and leaned back to shut her eyes.
The silence in which she found herself was uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.
Her eyes snapped back open. She thought there must be some kind of exercise she was supposed to do in this in-between moment, squeezing her upper thighs or something. She squeezed, but it felt weird and unproductive.
She could use this time to make a list of the friends (or maybe more honestly, acquaintances) she’d been meaning to get together with. But again, something blocked her. Her mind veered away from each of these tasks, things that had seemed so important this morning when she was brushing her teeth and running out of her apartment, bags dangling from her arms, toast crumbling in her hand, too many things to do.
Her mind was a sieve, her to-do lists slipping through her mental space like the backyard dirt when she was little and pretended to be panning for gold. Worries fell away like that soil, tumbling back to the earth. Something in her bubbled up, burning for this silence, even though she didn’t know what to do with it. She couldn’t even sit still with it.
Nora jerked her head around, searching. In the lane to her right, traffic had started to move, but the driver next to her was bent over his passenger seat, looking for something. He straightened up, made a gesture in his rear-view mirror and pulled up. The driver behind him, seemingly the one who’d honked his horn, moved forward to be even with Nora, his hands flailing as he yelled inaudibly at the guy in front of him.
How contained we all are, Nora thought. Her world seemed so big when she was the main character. But when she thought how she must be in the scheme of even just this highway, never mind the city, state, county, world, universe, she felt very small. Was this all her life was? Missed appointments and a bag of trash in a cluttered little sedan?
She imagined she was watching a day-in-the-life movie about these strangers who were traveling in her direction. This would be the opening scene, when everything is falling apart and all seems to be lost. The set-up for the change of heart and the rediscovery of all that really matters.
What was this man on her right late for? What happened to him this morning that set him off? Or was he just hangry, seeing as it was lunchtime?
Nora wish she hadn’t finished the granola bars she usually kept in the glove compartment. She made a mental note to restock, and her stomach growled in response. She reached over, thinking maybe she still had one left.
She rifled through expired insurance cards and extra garbage bags—she’d never once stored gloves in one of these things—and her fingers found what felt like jewelry. She couldn’t remember leaving a necklace or bracelet in there. When she pulled it out, she recognized it as a set of rosary beads her father had given her when she bought the car. Just in case, he’d said. She never asked, “in case of what?” He was sick then, and she’d teared up thinking he was preparing her for his death. He was doing so much better now, and she wondered if it was never really about him.
She reached into the glove box again and pulled out a granola bar—the chewy oatmeal raisin kind, her favorite. The guy next to her was still shaking his head, angling the car to the side to try to see what was holding them up.
With a glance ahead of her, Nora shifted to park, unbuckled, and got out of the car. She jogged around to his driver’s side and knocked on the window.
He rolled it down a few inches.
“Just thought you might be hungry.” She handed him the granola bar and made her way quickly back to her own vehicle.
Please let us start moving. Please let us start moving!
She didn’t want to see the look on his face. The odds were he’d tossed the bar to the side and was silently cursing her brashness.
In what she considered not only an answer to her first real prayer in ages, but also a bona fide miracle, traffic did start to move right as she closed her door behind her.
Nora’s curiosity was too much for her. She glanced over, and found the man looking back at her, granola bar unwrapped, his mouth moving as he chewed.
Thank you, he mouthed, nodding.
Nora smiled, her eyes mysteriously filling with tears.
Deep inside that same voice came to her again, echoing the man’s words. Thank you.
Lindsay Schlegel is a daughter of God, wife, mother, and believer in the life-giving power ofwords. She’s the author of “Don’t Forget to Say Thank You: And Other Parenting Lessons That Brought Me Closer to God” and the host of the weekly podcast, Quote Me. She has alsocontributed to a number of other Catholic and secular publications, including Verily, Ever Eden,Aleteia, CatholicMom.com, Natural Womanhood, and Blessed Is She. You can learn more abouther work and her speaking ministry at LindsaySchlegel.com or on Instagram, @lindsayschlegs and @quoteme_podcast.