What Could Have Been


Now and then you experience one of those moments, it could be a few seconds, hours, or even days but it is only after you exit them that you realize ‘What Could Have Been’. This is one such moment.

I had spoken in a church North of Knoxville and was leaving to return to Byrdstown when I realized that I had less than $2.00 in my pocket.  I pulled off of the interstate when I thought there was a First Tennessee 24 hour teller only to realized that I was wrong.  No money at this exit. I was in a line of cars waiting to turn west onto the entrance ramp to the West bound interstate.  I was just one car away when suddenly my passenger door swung open and an ill dressed middle age man pushed his way into my front seat. He shoved the items I had in the seat over pulled in a large cloth bag with him and made himself at home in my car. “Going west?” He said as I watched the traffic and then moved onto the ramp headed toward the west bound interstate. “Yes”, I said and for a moment was so caught off guard that I didn’t know how to respond.  Part of me was mad, part scared, and part confused. ‘Thanks for picking me up.” Hew spoke as he made himself at home.

Looking back I should have removed my keys and stepped out of the car to seek some help from one of the other motorist.  You really don’t need to take a chance like that.  But I was caught by the surprise, the fact that in my profession you are supposed to help those in need and even remember in that moment the story that Jesus told of the ‘Good Samaritan.’

Trying to catch my thoughts and make some sense out of all of this I responded to him by saying, “I really didn’t give you a lift, you just got in the car.” He said, “Man I tired and you be going west, and you were stopped, so I just got in. Now you don’t mind do you?” I said, “Well really I do, I like to invite people into my car not just have them get in.”

He responded with, “I knows a find dressed up man like you going my way in this fancy car don’t  mind giving me no ride?  Don’t cost no more for two than for one in this big fine car of yours?”

“You keep talking about my big find car, like maybe you would like it.” I said, “You know if you stayed off of that whiskey and those cigarettes for a few months you could drive this find car.” “Man you be crazy.” He said “I could never own a car like this.” I said, “You spend about a thousand dollars a month on smokes and booze don’t you? In just a few months you could buy this car.”  “Man, no way” He said, “I never get big money like that to buy this car.”  I laughed and said, “You have $3,000.00? I will sell you this car right now.  This ‘fine car’ as you call it has 245,000 miles on it and I will be happy to take $3,000 right now and catch me a ride home.”

Then I asked him where he was going, he responded that he might go to Nashville, ‘Big City’ as he called it or down to ‘Memphis get on that river and spend the winter in New Orleans.”  He drug it out like it was a special memory in his mind.

“I can take you as far as Crossville”, I said, “That will keep you on the road west” He reached over and touched my coat and said, “That be a mighty find suit you be wearing. You some kind of preacher or something that needs those find suits?” 

I asked him to stay on his side of the seat and said, “Same story as with the car.  You stay off of that stuff and you can buy two of these in a couple of weeks.  Yes, I am some kind of preacher; in fact my church gave me this suit so I really don’t know what it cost.”

“Why is it God gives so much to some and so little to others?” He asked.  I said, “I’m not sure what you want but if it is money you got in the wrong car.  In fact I have less than two dollars on me so you made a bad choice.  As to why God does things the way he does I have always felt that He expected us to do a lot for ourselves and others. In fact I have held two jobs most of my life just to ride in this ‘fine car’ and wear this ‘fine suit.’”

I went on to tell him about some of my jobs and to ask him about his. We talked about if I really worked or if I just got paid.  I explained that I suppose that would depend on how you thought about what I do and even how you thought about me.

He said, “You say we spose to do something good for others.  What you going to do for me?” Then without waiting for an answer he went on. “You going to give me something or maybe you want to get me saved since you be a preacher.  Then when I gets saved I need to give you something.”  I laughed and told him that I didn’t have anything to give him but that I was going to eat lunch in Crossville and I would be happy for him to eat with me, my treat. As to being saved I said I would leave that up to the Lord.

He stayed silent for a few minutes then said, “You say you got no money but you going to gets me lunch.  Maybe you going to call the law on me.”

I held up my phone and said, “For all you know they are already listing to everything we are saying.  You are right I don’t have any money but I have a credit card and would be glad to pay for your lunch if you will eat with me. No I am not going to call the ‘law’ unless you do something stupid.”

I was grateful to see our exit coming up and suggested we eat at Cracker Barrel. He said they would not let him in there and I assured him that they would and if he was hungry this was the best I could do, if not he could get out on the ramp as we approached our exit.

We went to lunch. He asked me if I wanted him to pray that prayer that sinners spose to pray and I said that the pray meant nothing unless his heart was in it and that I knew he consider me a ‘Mark’ but that the journey was over.  Lunch and a ride back to the exit was all there was. He had picked the wrong, ‘Mark’.

He laughed and said, “Look at this.” I looked as he pulled a large knife out of the bag he had with him.  “I bet you glad I didn’t show you this in the car?”

“You are right.” I said, but then I would have had a heart attack and he would be charged with murder.” Heart attack ant no murder” he said and pushed it back in the bag. I went into a long explanation of the second degree murder charge and realized that I was just blowing air so I stopped and said. “Now I have a problem.” “What be a problem”, he asked, you ant got no money for this meal.”  “No” I said, “I have the credit card for the meal but I can’t let you walk away from here with that big knife.  No I can’t do that.  What if I read in tomorrow’s paper that someone had been killed on the interstate.  I would be partly to blame letting you loose with that knife.” He looked at me then took the knife back out of his bag and walked over to the trash container and threw it away.

“That do?” he asked.  I said, “As long as you don’t come back for it.”  By this time we were on our way out of the restraint and I leaned over to the lady at the front door and said, “There is something spoiled in that trash container. Maybe you need to get someone to empty it now.”  She thanked me and spoke something into the mike pinned to her chest as we left.

I took him back to the interstate and told him that I was going to the next exit but that he would have a much better chance to catch a ride here that at the Monterey exit.

He opened the door and got out of the car.  I leaned across the seat and offered him my hand. He said, “You got rid of my knife, didn’t you?” “Sure did”, I said, “Get yourself a job and bring me my $3000.00 for my fine car.” He laughed and closed the door.

I drove through the exit door of that event and it was only then that I begin to realize what a stupid thing I had done.


Ivan N. Raley


Published in: on November 12, 2013 at 12:05 am  Leave a Comment  

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