Sunday, September 10, 2006

Driving Me Crazy

I had a funny experience the other day at work. I had decided to leave my rather stifling cubicle confines and drive to a nearby town to deal with a report concerning misbehaving traffic signals. It was close enough to quitting time that I wouldn't be able to do much when I got there, but it beat sitting at my desk trying to keep my eyes open. So, I hopped in my blue Dodge pickup (the only blue Dodge pickup the State of Illinois seems to own) and I took off down 7th Street toward my destination.

7th Street in Dixon is a very hilly street - especially between my place of employment (the Illinois Department of Transportation) and IL Route 26. Heading away from my office, the road drops considerably into a deep vally and then rises even higher to a peak where sits a Catholic church and a small park.

Anyway, as I was descending into the valley, there was a mini-van in front of me. I'd paid little attention to it, until it's left turn signal started blinking. Normally, when things like this happen, the average driver makes decisions almost subconsciously. You don't really think about what's happening, you just respond because experience has taught you what most drivers will do when they turn on their left turn signals. So I didn't think much about her blinking signal, except, "Where's she going to turn?" There didn't look like a good place for her to make a left turn any time soon, judging by the rate she was slowing down.

Then she did something that caught me by surprise. With her left turn signal still engaged, she swerved to the right and pulled up next to the curb.

"Ok," I thought, "She's getting out of the way of traffic, so I'll just zip past her."

I had no more than laid my foot on the accelerator to speed past her mini-van when she very suddenly pulled directly into my path. Naturally, I hit the brakes. It was close, but I managed to avoid a collision, but not without getting her attention. She then completed her u-turn in front of me, parked her car on the opposite side of the street next to her apartment and leaned out the window to yell at me, "Hey! Didn't you see my turn signal?"

I moved on, not wanting to spark a confrontation. By the time I got to the top of the hill, I was mad. I'd realized that if I were a cop, she'd have had a ticket in hand by now. By the time I got to the signals at Route 26, I'd chewed her out three times in my head, each time telling her that first, what she did was completely illegal, turn signal or not, and second, the next time she decides to do something like that, to pull over and let the traffic go by so no one sees her doing it, much less gets in a wreck with her. And I was still chewing her out as I left Dixon's city limits.

There's a certain sweetness about the bitterness we can bear toward someone who's wronged us. It's almost delectable, being furious at someone who has so clearly wronged you and deserves to be punished for it. Yet that same sweetness that captivates our minds, indulges our emotions, can easily ruin a moment, a day, a week, or even a lifetime. Anger itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but when we fall in love with our anger, it's bound to end up hurting us. I realized as I drove farther down the road that I was becoming infatuated with this sense of having been wronged. In short, I was letting her crazy driving drive me crazy!

One of my favorite artists is Don Chaffer of Waterdeep. A couple years ago he put out an album entitled Whole 'Nother Deal which ranks among the greatest albums I've ever owned - secular or Christian. The third track on this album is a song entitled "On Our Way To Crazy" wherein Chaffer intones the refrain:

"Once we love those things that hurt us, we're on our way to crazy..."

In Deuteronomy 32:35, God states simply, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay". This verse popped into my head and it prompted me to give the whole thing over to God in a quick prayer. I prayed for my attitude and finally let go of the issue.

Yet there remained one problem: no matter how I felt toward this nameless woman, she'd done something wrong. It wasn't simply wrong, it was stupid and dangerous. Her response to me after the incident showed me that she didn't think she'd done anything wrong - which means she'd be likely to do it again.

It seems to me that we often confuse forgiveness with the denial of justice. Many people presume that to forgive someone of their wrong is to deny the service of justice in that case. Rather, the purpose of forgiveness is to ensure that a skewed justice is not being enforced: that the punishment fits the crime and is not skewed or biased by the personal feelings of those wronged. It gets at a central idea that a lot of Christians overlook: Our emotions are secondary to our will and our will is to be held subject to God's will.

In this case, I had cleared myself of any possible ill feelings I may have had at this woman who wronged me. The issue was no longer whether or not I had been wronged, but whether this woman posed a danger to other drivers. Something had to be done about that. As a result of that conviction, I didn't hesitate to get her license plate number as I drove past her minivan parked alongside the road on my way back to the office.

Once I got back to my desk, I called the local police station and reported the incident. The officer on the other end thanked me and said, "We'll go yell at her." Later, I was thinking about that comment. He acted as though I wanted them to "yell" at her. It seems he presumed that I was irate over this situation, just seething and fuming over what had happened, desperate to sick the cops on her and get back at her.

And at one point, I was.

- Graffy


BD said...

You didn't stop and take here valve stems out. You are a better man than I! :) Just kidding, love the blog man! Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

You reported her? I don't think I would have done that. I'm more likely to let people continue in their stupidity until some consequence of their action occurs. But that's not always right either because then you have the pride thing to deal with and have to resist the urge to say "I told you so" or feel satisfaction that their stupidity led to something bad happening.

Interesting stuff ...