My wife and I just finished a twelve-hour drive from our home in Virginia to my old hometown in Massachusetts. Well, I say twelve. It was supposed to be twelve. But the thing about twelve-hour car rides through busy cities during rush hours on Friday evenings is that chances are you’ll rack up a few extra hours on your travel time. We left at 6:45 this morning; we arrived at my parents’ house fifteen hours later. You might think that a mere three hours after a solid twelve isn’t that big of a deal, but believe me, it is. While we puttered along in almost standstill traffic, and as I watched with a kind of morbid fascination as our GPS slowly but dogmatically upped our estimated arrival time in one-minute increments, Mary and I started to share our observations on a metaphor that was practically writing itself: the traffic around us.
New England is probably most well-known for its courteous and safe drivers whose primary concern is the safety and well-being of those with whom they share the road. This is, at least, the case with Bizzaro Earth, where the grasses are the most exquisite shades of blue and the sky is an emerald green and elephants routinely have tea parties with their finest china pieces. But here in our dimension, on this planet, New England drivers have earned the reputation of generally navigating the Northeast’s impressive interconnected pothole network with all the grace and finesse of a man trying to decorate a Faberge egg with a ball-peen hammer. In their defense, this is only because it is true.
At one point during our trip, after everyone had managed to accelerate back up to speeds that justified our decision to get into the car today, we passed an unfortunate backlog of cars crawling along toward what must have been a popular exit. As we drove by, I noticed a fancy black Audi pull out of the lane, too frustrated with the wait to remain in line. Moments later, I watched, flabbergasted, as the driver of the car darted back in line at the very front of the exit. I was only able to remain shocked at the jerk-caliber of that move for a second or two because I had to slam on the brakes while the van in front of me tried to muscle its way into the line as well.
In a single move, both those drivers made it clear that they believed their time was more important than the time of dozens and dozens of people lined up behind them. They were willing to inconvenience literally everyone else waiting to use that exit just to make their lives a little easier. A scripture came to mind.
The last days
Paul warned Timothy, “in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1-4). If you’re ever looking for a means to put a damper on your own day while simultaneously degrading your faith in humanity, go spend some time in rush-hour traffic and see how many of the characteristics listed by Paul you can find on display. People will cut in front of you without so much as a nod of gratitude; recklessly drive their needlessly expensive cars in and out of lanes while cursing out anyone with the audacity to be driving in their path; aim obscene gestures and scream at other drivers for real and imagined offences—in fact, you might have a harder time finding a trait from 2 Timothy 3 that you can’t check off after an hour or two in traffic.
The point, and what Mary and I noticed on this particular car ride, is that in only a matter of seconds, a person can leave a lasting impression on others concerning their character and their values. There were more than a few drivers between Massachusetts and Virginia that I mentally noted as self-absorbed hazards to public safety. And I could be wrong about a couple. Maybe there were some extenuating circumstances. Maybe that one guy who cut everyone else off in the exit lane was in a hurry to buy shoes for an orphanage. Who knows? Not me. The point is that in a single moment, we can leave a lasting and heavy impression on those around us.
“Life,” in the words of Rascal Flatts, “is a highway.” If one car can make such a noticeable impact on a literal highway, what kind of impressions are you and I leaving behind on the metaphorical road of everyday life? Peter wrote to the Church, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:11-12).
The path we’re travelling as followers of Christ is not going unseen by the world around us. The choices and decisions we make along that path are likewise just as visible. We ought to be striving to live in such a way that the only charges the world can bring against us are for doing the right things. We’re sojourners and pilgrims here. We’re cars on a highway, and people are watching.
Let’s not drive like New Englanders, okay?