A few weeks back I went to a spiritual program in a quaint historic town in West Virginia. It’s a lovely place, complete with a small university which has its own campus sidewalks patrolled by a security force. If you’ve ever visited such a small town, you might also be familiar with the local police and how vigilant they can be at prosecuting any one that might break local rules, regardless of the circumstances. So here’s how it went. I arrived at the location about 4pm and pulled up to the side of the campus sidewalk in what I believed was a legal spot even putting money in the meter. I then attended dinner and the evening program after registering in the dorm.
The next morning I went out to the car to find a ticket on the windshield. At first I was very confused thinking that I had gotten the ticket for parking near the dorm. Then I read the ticket more carefully; it said, “For parking in the wrong direction”. Wow, I couldn’t believe it. Apparently, the evening before when I had parked near the program at campus, I had pulled up to the parking meter on the wrong side of the street. Since there were no other cars on the street that Friday afternoon during the summer break (no students were on the campus), I didn’t realized that I was on a two-way street headed in the wrong direction. I went into breakfast rather wired having just received a $90 ticket! Ok, so technically it was my fault; according to the absolute letter of the law, I was in the wrong. However, I wasn’t familiar with the town or the roads and after driving for 1 ½ hours through the countryside to get there I was a bit disoriented (I tend towards motion sickness on curvy, windy roads).
Once at breakfast, I tried to calm down and began to figure out my course of action. I could go down to the police station a couple blocks away and plead my case (ignorance, of course). I thought the police would understand if I was nice and explained that I was from out of state, etc. At the program the night before, I had made a new friend who was now helping me think through what to do. In addition, she insisted upon going with me on my mission which fueled my courage, as well as resolve.
As we left the dining hall another woman handed me a retreat brochure, which I tried not to take, already having one, but she insisted. I left with the brochure in hand wondering why she had given it to me. As my new friend and I walked up the street, I went over my “speech” that I would give to the police. We had a bit of trouble finding the address, which gave us more time to be together as well as for me to think about the situation until I said, “Well, the worst that came happen is that I pay the ticket and God sends me another client to help me pay for it”. At that moment, I opened the brochure and stopped in my tracks – since there were 4 $20 bills inside – $80 in cash. I stood there in amazement. No one had ever given me money like that and I didn’t even know the woman who had handed it to me. I told my friend that I couldn’t accept it but she insisted that it was a gift and I had to accept or be rude.
We finally found the police station and it was closed. I wrote a check and put it in the box outside the station placed just for the purpose of taking the envelope with parking payments. The police don’t even bother to open on Saturdays; they just have a box and expect people to pay the tickets that they issue with strict warning that otherwise one’s car could be impounded any time in the future. Not worth the chance.
When I went into the program for the morning session, I found the woman who had “paid it forward” by giving me the money. She told me her story; apparently, she was doing a friend a favor and getting a lot of money for it and felt like she had money to share. As a result, I decided to give her a reading. It wasn’t required, just a gift to her. She was thrilled with what I told her to the extent that she wanted to become a client. If she hadn’t helped me, I wouldn’t have known her and I wouldn’t have helped her. In the end we both benefited and God paid the parking ticket for me after all.