Dropping my daughter off at preschool this morning, I almost got hit by a car.
I exaggerated. I did not almost. I could have. Here’s how.
My daughter’s preschool is part of a big Lutheran church. They have a good-sized parking lot. We are pretty early and there are relatively few cars. As I walk back to my car in the second row, a red minivan pulls into the first row, right where I am walking. The driver doesn’t stop…she inches. It is clear that she wants me to move over.
To the empty space on my left.
Now, we have dozens of small interactions like this on a daily basis, and most of the time, we just move over. And I’ve preached enough homilies about the kind of forgiving love that doesn’t pay any mind to this. However,
She pissed me right off.
And I hope to be forgiven for the evil thoughts I had. The most obvious among them was how I imposed my thoughts of her true character: the perceived laziness of needing the front-most spot, to the point of expecting a pedestrian to vacate it. When I get back to the car, I discover my wife has had many run-ins with this woman. Apparently she isn’t friendly. Of course, I feel better about those evil thoughts.
And man, that is so not how that is supposed to go.
What really made me mad, wasn’t what I thought about her character or the stuff I imposed upon her. Not really. That’s all surface stuff. It is that she flouted the rules of social behavior without any real value gained for doing so. She was one spot closer to the door, and I had to move to make that happen. As a pedestrian, and particularly, as one whose direction was established, it is my right of way.
When two people come to a door, it is the first one there, with the momentum, that has the right to go through first. Going down the hall, it is the one going straight, not the one turning that has the right of way. We figure this stuff out really early on in life.
My right of way was violated.
Like my friend, who I visited last night. She was nearly hit by a car. And not in my hyperbolic way. A driver not paying attention. A driver who thought her way was right. Actions that had repercussions for my friend.
I was taught in driver’s ed that pedestrians have the right of way. I always presumed it was both the need for safety of pedestrians and the relative un-nimbleness of a car that meant that cars should be the more cautious ones.
In my life, this understanding was questioned. In part by those seeking to highlight personal responsibility for other people. One experience in particular stands out. A representative of the city came to speak at my liberal arts college about city matters. Many students brought up safety concerns regarding the street that bisected campus, with an interest in a traffic light or some other means of slowing down the traffic and protecting the students crossing the street. He not only balked at the idea but suggested that pedestrians don’t have the right of way. I had a certain clarity of response that only a 19 year-old can have. I realized that the city cared more for the complaints of the “townies” and traffic flow than the safety of the students. They needed to be responsible for themselves while the city could be responsible for the drivers’ welfare.
This wasn’t always the case. Check out this story from 99% Invisible, “The Modern Moloch”. It is a story about how our traffic patterns have been formed, quite differently than we might expect, and for different reasons. If you aren’t a regular listener to the 99% Invisible show or podcast, do yourself a favor and subscribe to it through iTunes. You will be glad you did.
The battle over the right of way is a test of will and an expression of dominance. Even the act of yielding, as in assisting another, may be such an expression. But at its core is the question of how one sees the outside world and everything in it. Are we selfish and aggressive or are we communal and compassionate?
At the risk of sounding selfish, I’m just tired of tragedy and selfishness. I’m worn out from the caring and concern. I can see why the Pharisees love their rules. It is so easy to be selfish. But dammit, we need to be better than this.