“A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”
– Pope Francis
I temporarily lost my mind in the rental car center of Houston Intercontinental Airport. I wish I were exaggerating. The screen that usually indicates my preferred personal status instead directed me to “see the desk.” This is never a good sign. As I approached the two counter representatives, they curtly asked me why I was there. When I shared that I was there at their screen’s direction, one of the representatives came over, picked up a phone, punched in some numbers, and handed me the receiver without saying a word. When I inquired as to who I was about to speak to or why I needed to speak with them, I was told I needed to update some info in my rewards profile. After 15 minutes of waiting, I inquired if there was another way that I could update my profile. There was not. When the person on the other end picked up and had no idea why I was calling or how to help me, I began what felt like a mediation between two co-workers.
After 45 minutes of conversation and lots of confusion, I was told that I was free to select any car from the rewards section of the lot. The first three cars smelled like smoke. The fourth car wouldn’t start. When I asked an employee walking around if they could help me find a car, they shrugged their shoulders. I finally found a car and waited in a long line to exit through the only open gate. When I approached the gate, the agent informed me that I was in the wrong type of car, and I would need to return it immediately. I explained my odyssey. “Not my problem,” she said, “Make a right, return the car, and pick another.” My breathing started to get a little deeper. I did as I was told, “returned my rental,” and selected another car. I took the most basic one I could find and then, more than 90 minutes later, I got back into the long line to check out…again. As I approached the gate, a new employee scanned my car and told me that my rewards status was “expired,” and I needed to go back to the office. I asked if she could call the office because I had just been there for over an hour. She shook her head no without looking at me. I said please. She replied, “I said no.” I motioned to the lane next to me where the other person had told me to go back and asked her to confirm my experience. Shrug.
What happened next could only be described as an out-of-body experience. Suddenly, someone who looked like me and sounded like me threw the car into park. “I refuse to get out of the car,” that Dan Cellucci said. “I will not go back.” The rental car employee looked at me, rolled her eyes, turned off her booth light, and proceeded to walk over to another booth and direct the long line of cars that was forming because of the “crazy person who won’t get out of his car.” After staring blankly ahead, I caught a glimpse of a concerned renter staring at me as she pulled out. Having really no next step, I left the keys in the car, grabbed my stuff and began walking back to the office. “Sir, you need to return the car,” an employee yelled. I returned a shrug similar to those shrugs I had received. I returned to the office and pleaded for assistance. I was told, “Not until you return the car.” I walked out, and within 10 minutes, I rented a car through a different company.
As I began to exit the garage, relieved that the nightmare was over, I realized that I had to exit through the same, now really long line, because some lunatic left an unattended car parked at the exit gate. As the same agent checked me out, neither one of us made eye contact. My relief had turned to shame, and I couldn’t believe how in the span of two hours I devolved from “please” and “thank you” to a scene that was probably minutes away from involving a call to security, or minimally a video on social media that would’ve gone viral.
On my drive home, I tried to diagnose what had happened. It wasn’t one rude or unhelpful person - it was six or seven consecutive dismissals of me as a person, asking for help, and not only getting a “no,” but getting an “I don’t care” along with it. As I examined my conscience with regret for the way I behaved, I also couldn’t help but wonder: how often am I unconsciously a part of a chain reaction that makes someone feel unimportant, devalued, or unloved? Do I remember, when someone comes to me for help, that they have a whole journey they are bringing with them in that moment? How might I change a dynamic, reset someone’s day, or bring them peace?
The Lord created us for each other, and for each of us to better know Him. Our lives are gifts - and they’re also rentals. We can return our lives to Him as if it doesn’t matter who comes after us, or we can help each other return ourselves to the Lord in as pristine shape as when we first drove off the lot. I’ll be researching a new rental car company going forward but more importantly, I need to do some serious work to make sure people know they are loved by God through my witness. Prayers for how you can drive the quality of someone else's day for the better.
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