My daughter and I, along with several other women from our church, stood in our friend Loretta’s driveway, preparing to leave on a weekend retreat. As her husband helped load her luggage into their van, I noticed a small circular cutout in the driveway under the van’s bumper. The shallow hole, a few inches in diameter, encased something metal.
“Arnold,” I said, pointing. “What’s that hole for?”
“Oh,” he said, tossing in the last suitcase. “I use it to get my spare out.”
I didn’t mean to be dense, but it occurred to me suddenly that in all the years the Preacher and I have owned vehicles, we’ve never had to drive on top of a hole in our driveway to retrieve our spare tire. “I don’t get it. How?”
“Well,” said Arnold, “I put a little tool in that hole so I can lift the floor to get at the tire.”
I stood, bewildered. “Is that the only way to get your spare out?”
“Yes,” he said, though my question seemed to confound him.
Desperate to understand this new method of spare tire extraction, I ploughed on. “I’m just curious. What happens if you have to change a tire when you’re not here in the driveway. In the middle of nowhere, for instance?” Beside the highway. In the dark. I really wondered.
We tossed the hole problem back and forth a few more times, neither of us comprehending why the other couldn’t understand. Finally Arnold had no more answers and I had no more questions. There we stood, him scratching his head, me staring down at the hole. Utterly baffled.
Finally, one of the other women, none of whom had so far even peeped, broke the impasse with a remarkable question. “Uh…Arnold, do you know which hole Kathleen is talking about?”
He shrugged, stretched out his hand, bent over and touched the hole he’d just spend an entire week’s worth of words explaining. A small hole — on the floor of the back of the van. The hole in which he inserts some kind of tool that lets him access his spare tire, wherever and whenever he needs it.
My fellow females and I began hooting like a parliament of owls as we realized that given his added height and his proximity to the van tailgate, Arnold couldn’t even see the hole I’d noticed in his driveway. And I hadn’t noticed the small hole he’d tried so hard to explain. The one in the floor of the van itself.
After we clarified our holes, after the hooting stopped, we started over. This time, he explained what I didn’t understand in one simple sentence. “That hole is the shut-off valve for our city water.”
Whether discussing life or holes or holy things — God, faith, Jesus, salvation — that conversation has taught me a critical lesson about communication: First, make sure everyone is pointing at the same hole.