01/10/2014 03:06 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Miracles Work

I couldn't tell if it was the rain or the tears. That's not true, it was clearly the rain -- because the windshield wipers weren't working! Again. Tears just compounded the problem.

The New Year had not begun well, but returning to friends in DC to attend the AHA (American Historical Assoc.) annual conference boded well -- it's the "happy place" for my HistoryChiQ persona. And yet...

The Set Up
That Sunday morning, I switched on the wipers to combat the light rain en route to the last conference session, only to find they wouldn't swish for anything. And I had just had the whole shebang replaced!

One month prior, on my way to an event at Eleanor's Roosevelt's estate they stopped dead -- in the middle of a snowstorm! I had to navigate myself off the highway in zero visibility, with trucks whizzing by -- harrowing.

An agonizing decision to make my way back to the City when the snow had subsided a bit had me with my head hanging out the side window, stopping frequently to wipe the windshield. Almost $600 (mostly borrowed) and three days later, I had a new motor, wipers and other gizmos installed by the mechanic. As the Toyota Camry is a 1992, so it's not so odd that this happened (although never with my '93 Corolla), but it was ridiculous for it to happen again! And how was I going to afford it, and anyway, wasn't it the responsibility of the mechanic -- who was 200 miles away, and closed.

Earlier that morning, a kind man in a Ford Explorer told me to "have a blessed day" after giving me a jump at the gas station -- the door had been ajar all night and the interior light on, but that didn't fix the wiper problem. My anxiety mounted as I tried to navigate my way to the conference hotel, praying it didn't rain harder and pondering what to do.

Being Sunday, no mechanics are open (I know this from experience), and I needed get back to NYC that night.

I started to cry, exacerbating the windshield wiper issue. And scream, frustration adding to the mix like dripping fangs. Every other problem in my life rushed in to adhere itself to this one -- as they do -- making it an insurmountable, expensive, infuriating mess.

And I thought, No. No no no no no no NO. There is a solution to this. Just because I don't know what it is doesn't mean there isn't one. I decided there would be money and right jobs and a fix for the car, and just everything. I decided I was lucky.
An image came to me, a sort of largish present floating down, dirty white like one of those old erasers with the corners rubbed off, and tied with twine. I thought, 'that doesn't look very nice', then immediately decided not to judge it. I found a parking spot and decided I had needed to drive around awhile to ensure the battery was recharged. I decided to go to the conference session anyway, caught the tail end of it and was thrilled I did -- it was exactly what I needed to hear.

The first day of the conference, I'd gotten lost in the labyrinthine Marriott trying to find the opening reception. I ran into another woman who was lost, so we joined forces to find the party. Once there, we discovered we were exactly the person the other was supposed to meet: Ninie Syarikin was with NCIS (National Coalition of Independent Scholars) and was manning their reception table just as I had done the previous year in New Orleans!

As I sat in the lobby that Sunday wondering if I dare the 4-hour drive in drizzle with no wipers and contacting anyone I could think of to figure out what to do, she emailed me... to see if I was still in town, could grab a coffee, etc. I explained that my departure had hit a major snafu. Ninie said, "I know someone who is good with cars...." My heart lurched.

I ran to the car to be ready to go when she called back. I stopped in an Indian shop to replace some lost gloves my hostess had lent me. The shopkeeper threw in an evil-eye bracelet, a string of blue eyes just like mine. "You look like you could use some luck," he said.

The Miracle
The phone rang. Ninie's friend was at a Laundromat two minutes from the hotel. I zipped over, met Ahmed, loaded his laundry into my car and drove another three minutes to his back alley, where he proceeded to figure out precisely what was wrong with my wipers.

For some peculiar reason I'd kept the broken mechanism that had been replaced in the trunk. This sped up the diagnostic process. Now, all we needed was a 12-bolt. Ummm. Ahmed looked dubious; my heart thudded, but when he dumped out the contents of his toolkit, I enthusiastically helped him look. Eureka! And the windshield wipers worked better than they ever had. Ever.

Ahmed was in construction now, but helped people with their cars sometimes. He explained what my mechanic had done wrong (and what it should have cost). I was filled to the brim with gratitude. I offered him all the cash in my purse (not much). No. I offered him what I had in the car, a bottle of perfume (for his wife or girlfriend?), a liter of Diet Coke? A blanket! No no and no. In the end, I gave him my card and told him he had a place to stay in NYC whenever he wanted.

What was the miracle? Chance meeting with Ninie? Her calling me? Ninie knowing Ahmed? Ahmed knowing how to fix what was wrong? Getting home safely? Yes to all, but also... my changed mindset.

Plus, now I have an odd little "miracle picture" of the present (get it?) to remind me, because the slippery thing about miracles is, we start to discount them in hindsight. Already the Bigness of how impossible this all felt is starting to recede.

But the next day, which happened to be the feast of Epiphany, I had one:

The metaphor of the windshield wipers: Yes, they had broken down before, and been fixed, but I still wasn't seeing clearly (too many tears in the way). This time I did see... that everything you need is right in front of you, like a gift, sans sharp edges, although it might not look like you'd expect, but it can erase what's wrong. And the twine that holds it all together is an unbroken string of gratitude.