My oldest brother, Jim, and his wife, Susan, were heading back to Amarillo from the mountains in northern New Mexico one hot summer day when they came across a broken down church bus. Flat plains of red dirt, barely tacked in place by the sparse desert grass and cacti, stretched for miles and miles in every direction. Bone dry, rutted arroyos looked like cracks in the side of an old man's face in the distance. The next town was at least fifty miles away.
A dozen sweaty teenage boys milled around on the side of the road, passing time with Frisbees and footballs. Suitcases had been pulled out from the baggage area under the bus, and long-legged girls sat on them in a big semi-circle, surreptitiously watching the boys. All they needed was a big campfire. The boys flirted with the girls; the girls giggled and hid their braces behind their hands. Unlike what you might find in a similar crowd today, iPods didn't grow like electric vines from teenagers' ears, cell phones didn't buzz in every pocket, and young fingers didn't fly across miniature keyboards as they sent text messages to one another. The girls weren't wearing short shirts that showed off their belly rings, and the boys weren't baring the top half of their underwear.
The bus driver, who was also the pastor, stood alone on the front bumper of the old white bus, hunched over the overheated engine, trying to breathe life back into it. The engine ticked and hissed, dying a slow death.
Jim pulled over to the side of the road fifty feet or so in front of the bus. He left his big Chevy truck idling with the air conditioning running for Susan and walked back to talk the red-faced bus driver. Mechanical things held no mysteries for Jim, and it didn't take him long to determine that the bus wasn't going anywhere under its own steam any time soon. The bus driver asked if Jim would send a tow-truck back when he reached the next town.
Jim told the man that it wouldn't be necessary. He helped put the suitcases back on the bus, and then he herded all the rowdy teenagers back onboard. It only took him a few minutes to back up his truck and hook a chain to the bus. Then he and Susan slowly towed that bus all the way to the next town.
Jim never told me this story. I read about it in the newspaper when the pastor/bus driver wrote an article about my brother's extraordinary kindness. He brought such joy to the lives of all those around him and was such a wondrously generous, humble man. Jim died in a small plane crash nearly eight years ago, and his wife and my family and I miss him every single day. He left a huge hole in our hearts.
Jim would have been sixty years old today.