Thursday, October 18, 2007

Traffic and the Fall

After spending nearly five hours stuck in traffic today, this seems like a good time to highlight another of my favorite posts from Signs of the Times, Traffic and the Fall:

I once saw a cartoon about a perfect gentleman who became a maniac whenever driving. In everyday life, he’s relaxed and courteous – he even helps a spider off the walkway. But when he gets behind the wheel, his shoulders rise up, he leans forward with a grimace, his whole demeanor changes. Foot jammed to the floor, he races past unsuspecting grannies and runs other drivers off the road.

It was a ridiculous cartoon, but I have a confession to make (I’m not even Catholic!): After six months of commuting, I’ve realized that I am that man. I’m normally pretty easy going, but driving stresses me out to the extreme. I yell and swear. I rage when people fail to go at least five over. Don’t they know that speed limits are the minimum acceptable speed?! And if someone can’t drive in the snow, I feel an unbearable urge to bumper tap them into a ditch. Stoplights are the very beacons of hell.

Some picture heaven as clouds and harps; I imagine Bruce Almighty turning his car into a Ferrari and parting traffic like the Red Sea. If I pray while driving, it’s Please, God, give me a green light and an open road! After all, if he really is all-powerful and all-good, surely he could and would accomplish this minor feat. Yet he never seems to answer that prayer – maybe the atheists were right all along.

Or maybe something else is going on here. My relationship with traffic seems but a microcosm of my relationship with society in general. My inhibitions may disappear when no one can see me but those I leave in the dust, but the desires that surface were there all along. At my worst, I drive as though every road belongs to me. Deep down, I suspect I’d prefer to treat the whole world that way; it’s just not so easy most other places.

Never-mind that freeways wouldn’t exist at all, if not for the traffic that justifies their expense. Never-mind that society itself depends on the millions of others I’d love to push aside. Never-mind that everything I have is a gift. When driving I forget all that and my true self comes out. I don’t care that my red light allows you to safely cross the intersection – it costs me fifteen seconds, and that’s plenty of time to mutter something dreadful about your mother. I may be more civil elsewhere, but my attitude behind the wheel proves what I really am – a deeply selfish, sinful man.

And that’s just it. Perhaps the reason God steadfastly refuses to answer my traffic prayers, is because it’s not my commute that really needs fixing. It’s me. Selfish as I am, it’s easy to feel that if God were good, life would be smooth. But is it not rather those rough parts of life that force me to face what’s really wrong within me? What I need most is not that all others would make way for me, but that I might learn to make way for them, even in the privacy of my own car.

If God rarely answers my prayers for a swift commute, there are others he always answers. Pray for patience and the response is immediate – usually he puts some yokel in my path and asks how I’ll respond.

If you liked this post, be sure and read Kate Bluett's excellent response: Masks.

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