My 2006 Toyota Highlander developed a knock sometime during the last few weeks. I had three new tires put on during that time. Donna used it to make an eight-hour round trip for an out-of-town youth conference. And the black SUV is closing in on 130,000 miles. Any of that can cause unwelcome noises.

It’s more than a little annoying and, for me, confounding.

I should take it to a car doctor, shouldn’t I? Yeah, that’s probably a good idea. I might do that soon. I’ll bet other people hear that noise, too. Surely it’s noticeable. The car probably needs some attention, some help.

I can keep driving for a while, though. I mean, it’s not like I’m broken down and stranded on the side of the road. Yet. I’ve probably got time. And maybe it will go away.

I wonder if anyone notices. I mean, is it obvious to everyone else? When my car makes strange knock-knock-knocks, when something doesn’t feel right to me as I’m driving down the highway, when I’ve perhaps lost my way or wonder if I ever will make it to my destination, does anyone notice?

I guess I can just keep driving my Highlander until I do find myself stranded on the shoulder of some road. It might never happen, after all. I’ll make sure there is gas in the tank. Keep getting the oil changed regularly and filling the tires when they get a little low.  And the radio and CD player still works. That should keep the car going, right?

Okay, so I suspect there might be something important that is endangered, but if no one else notices. . . .

I am one of the least-handy people I know when it comes to cars and engines and any of that mechanical stuff. A long time ago I knew how to change the oil and oil filter on my 1970 Chevelle. Anything else intimidated the crud out of me. I figured that I earned a paycheck for being an expert in some things, so it made sense to me to use some of that paycheck whenever I needed a car expert.

Granted, I’m not a complete idiot. Even if I can’t diagnose the problem, I usually know when my car needs to see one of those experts. This knock-knock-knock – or is it a deep click-click-click – occurs only when I am slowing to a stop at an intersection or pulling into a parking spot.

I know there are mechanics who can diagnose specific car problems just by hearing some noises. I remember Gomer Pyle had that savant talent on an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show.” People throughout Mayberry brought their vehicles to Gomer. They would mimic the sound their car or truck was making, and he would have a good idea what the problem was. Some were in desperate need of repair or maintenance; others just a little “tender loving care.”


Little do we know that we are surrounded by cars in similarly dire straits every day. Just think about that the next time you’re driving down the interstate or pulling through a mall parking lot. We rarely pay attention to all those other cars, especially now in the age of cell phones.

Little do we know that we are surrounded by people in need of maintenance or repair or just a little “tender loving care.”

Little do we know about those people with whom we work or who live on the same street or whom we see every day at the convenience store; those people we see at church on Sundays or send Christmas cards every year; or anonymously sit nearby at the local Italian restaurant.

Some of those people are running on fumes. Some of them have dents and scrapes and interior stains. Some of them – indeed, most of them – have issues we simply don’t notice because we don’t pay close attention.

People with painful arthritis or excruciating back pain.

People being treated for cancer or having trouble keeping their blood-sugar within safe range.

People who are grieving the recent loss of a beloved family member.

People who struggle with migraines or insomnia.

People who have been baffled by infertility.

People who were just diagnosed with multiple sclerosis or any serious disease.

Girls with an eating disorder. Young men with an alcohol addiction.
Men and women with major depression, severe anxiety and panic attacks, bipolar disease, or some other mental illness.

We usually don’t notice the people around us who are stressed or in distress. It’s not really our fault. We try to help those for whom we bear some responsibility – our spouses, our children, our parents, our best friends. All those other people, well, someone will help them. Someone who understands them, someone who is trained or gifted to help in the way they need.

And if we see them stranded on the side of the road, broken down and truly hurting? I’ll say a prayer for them. And I’ll keep driving.

I’m not a doctor. I’m not a psychiatrist or counselor. I’m not a chiropractor or nurse or professional caregiver. How can I help?

Well, until the “people mechanic” or rescue squad shows up, maybe they just need someone to sit with them, hold their hand, ease their anguish, listen. Maybe you can ask how they are doing, then just let them talk or cry or scream or just be.

Maybe you simply can notice.