I was born and baptized a Methodist to a father of like faith and a mother of lapsed Catholicism… with a marked tendency to vodka. Like most of the hard-shell Baptist, relocated Southern Episcopalian, ‘go cut a switch’ Presbyterian lessons impressed upon me as a youth, I never truly understood the meaning, let alone the importance, of what it is to bear witness. It suggests a much narrower gap between science and religion that Psychology Today and the Catholic Church–Christianity as a whole, really–both offer the same essential definition: ‘to make a solemn statement or affirmation of a thing or event; to share the story of some thing that took place or some word that was spoken. To offer evidence. Worthy, true evidence.’
Now…I am neither a clinician nor a cleric, and I don’t presume to offer this piece of narrative evidence, worthy or not, as either. Beyond twenty-five years on the fringes of the advertising business, I have no knowledge or schooling of any kind in the field of psychology and cannot speak to it in any fashion. As for the latter… well, as for the latter, while I was raised under a Christian roof, and still regard myself as such, I must also confess that I am not a man driven by or wholly adherent to the faith. I do not claim membership among any congregation and I eschew the trappings and condescension of Sunday Christians. I do not end my outgoing message with the hope that whoever’s calling me will have a blessed day. I do not pray before the decisions I make or the meals I eat and I do not look for the hand of God in my daily business.
But here is the thing…. the thing I have wrestled with and dreamt of. The thing that has claimed so much of my waking thought for the past year, now. The thing that has compelled me…driven me to put this pen to paper.
I believe I have seen it.
I believe I have seen the whorls of that Hand’s imprint. I believe I have witnessed the evidence of it, the proof of its work. Moreover, I believe I have seen that proof in the eyes of nine women. Nine women I believe–nine women I know–were touched by that Hand.
And here’s the other thing. The thing that kindly throws a hitch in the whole getalong. The thing that pitches a little clod in the churn.
I witnessed it on a used car lot.
For the past eighteen months I’ve had the distinct and altogether humbling honor of directing the philanthropy effort for that used car company–a small, niche-market outfit in Franklin, Tennessee with the unlikely moniker of Providence Auto Group. A company that has broken every stereotype of the business, by literally basing their business on one simple philosophy.
The act of giving.
In just over five years, that philosophy has driven them to give away thirty-eight nearly-new cars to hard-hit women and families in Nashville, in concert with their partners at Thistle Farms, Safe Haven Family Shelter, End Slavery Tennessee and Mercy Multiplied…four houses of refuge staffed by heroes. Heroes whose greatest power and strength is that of simple compassion.
While it’s technically and professionally accurate that I was on the giving, business end of things in nine of those thirty-eight cases, I would be lying if I left it at that. And lying is a…. you know. The truth is, after directing the second of those nine Gives, it became something of an addiction for me…a wholly selfish act on my part. Each successive Give an attempt…a prayer that I might recapture what I believed I had seen in its predecessor event; what I believed I had witnessed in the eyes and upon the faces of each of the women who came before. Women who had come from lives so shattered, so fraught with fear and loss, and so far beyond the shade, to be removed from any reality we might conjure up in our darkest imaginations.
The thing I believed I’d witnessed, you see… the thing I believed I’d seen in their eyes was Hope. But a hope so palpable, so overwhelming, that it threatened to envelop not just each of these nine women, but all those surrounding them. A hope gripping each of them so powerfully that it seemed to leave an imprint upon them, as if they’d been lifted up, and held fast by a great hand.
But it was the knowledge of what sparked that hope, what gave rise to it and illuminated it that I write about now. A thing that I, and most, if not all of you reading this, take for granted so completely that the idea of living our lives without it–without them–is almost impossible to imagine.
Over the past two years, I’ve seen and photographed so many automobiles that they’ve all begun to run together. It takes something real special to move me past seeing nothing but steel and rubber and chrome and glass.
But to each of the nine women I stood beside at the very moment of the reveal of their new ride, it was clear that they were seeing something else. Something much more than four wheels.
They were seeing a road. A map. And a key. They were seeing the journey they were on opening up before them.
They were seeing the hope of freedom.
I have lived a long and charmed life. I have traveled to far ports in the world, and stood upon its stages. I have worked alongside Oscar winners and spoken with Presidents. I have been blessed beyond measure and seen wonders beyond reckoning.
But all of it pales and fades into the mist of memory when I look back upon the faces of those nine women, clear now, and present in my thought. Nine women whose faces etched into my mind and heart are the only evidence I have with which to bear this witness. Nine women I was privileged to stand beside in a moment in time when, regardless of how far I might’ve drifted from the faith of my fathers, I believed that we were all touched by that great and powerful Hand.
Nine singular moments on a used car lot when my life changed. Forever.
Swear to God.