Me first

Driving in Southern California is a test of character.

Can I get an “amen”?

See if you’ve had this experience.  I’m driving along a surface street, keeping an eye on the other cars around me.  Up ahead is a driver on one of the cross streets, waiting at a stop sign, peering intently in my direction.  I glance in the rearview mirror: there’s no one directly behind me, almost as far as the eye can see.

The person at the stop sign hesitates, then suddenly rockets out of the side street into the narrow gap between me and the car in front of me.  I know it’s coming, so my foot is already off the gas and hovering defensively over the brake.  (Well, OK–except for the days when the ornery part of me actually speeds up instead, daring them to do it.)  Sometimes, of course, the driver on the cross street hardly hesitates at all.  They slow down just long enough to make sure there aren’t a dozen Mack trucks barreling down on them, and off they go.

I check my rearview mirror again.  Yep, wide open spaces all the way to Vermont.  I send a telepathic message to the other driver: Dude.  You couldn’t have waited two seconds for me to pass?  Two seconds? 

I’m tempted, of course, to attribute all manner of uncomplimentary traits to the other driver.  Rude.  Inconsiderate.  Clueless.  Incompetent.  Or the worst of all: Criminally Compulsive Cell-Phone User.

The only thing is, I know there have been times when I was the other driver, and did something to annoy someone else.  And I don’t generally consider myself to be rude, inconsiderate, clueless, or incompetent.

Lesson # 1: I need to give others the same benefit of the doubt that I would want them to extend to me.

Still: why would anyone, myself included, not wait the extra two seconds in a situation like that, just to make it easier and safer for everyone involved?  Here’s a guess: it’s one outgrowth of a kind of me-first thinking that is so much a part of the culture we live in that we don’t even notice it.

I’m not talking about the automotive equivalent of someone cutting in line at the grocery store (though I have wondered if we’re more apt to do things like that from within the safety and anonymity of our cars).  I’m talking about a narrowness of vision, a way of focusing our attention that may serve us well in some areas but not others.

I’ve never quite understood why I sometimes seem to be in such a hurry to get somewhere that I really don’t want to go.  A dental appointment, where people are going to stick sharp implements in my mouth?  Gotta get there as soon as possible: I sure wouldn’t want to miss a moment of that.

And being in a such an inexplicable hurry, I laser in on that spot in traffic and claim it for my own.  It’s what I need to achieve my goal, whether the goal make sense or not.  That space is mine.

It’s not rational.  But some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.  And if not, well, you can pray for the rest of us.

Thus, lesson # 2: I need to ask myself why I’m in such a hurry, indeed, why hurriedness itself just seems to be such a universal feature of life.

And lesson # 3: when I get behind the wheel of a car, I need to pray for God to teach me the practical meaning of humility.  It takes humility to realize that other people aren’t intentionally trying to make my life difficult.  Realistically, in their world, I hardly exist.  But that doesn’t mean I should have the same attitude.  From my side, humility means recognizing that other drivers do exist, and are real human beings who will be impacted by what I do.  “Me first” won’t cut it on the road.

Simply put: it won’t do to say I follow Jesus, and then drive as I please.