No one who knows me would call me a “good driver.” From the time the driving test instructor said, “I’m going to pass you anyway,” to the time of this entry, I have paid out enough money in traffic violation fines to purchase a stainless steel food cart from Craigslist. I still think that there may be several bench warrants out for my arrest.
When I was 16, my father took me driving in the soon-to-be-mine tiny blue Toyota with the stick shift. We drove out to Ashland, Oregon – a smorgasbord of ludicrously steep hills – and he attempted to teach me how to use the parking brake instead of the foot brake on a hill.
“Okay, Willow. You’re going to pull up the parking brake. Good. Now, shift your foot down on the gas and up on the clutch and pull up the brake at the same time.”
sweaty heart palpitations
“Any time now.”
check rearview to see honking, red-faced truck driver
“Just put your foot on the gas and lift on the-”
I lifted up on the brake, also lifting up on the clutch at the same time, totally forgetting the gas and stalling the engine. My stomach lurched backwards in defeat. No, wait. We were actually rolling backwards.
If my father ever tells you he can’t fly, I can refute that. As we careened backwards at a 75º angle towards a large bearded man whose face was being swallowed by his bulging eyeballs, my father defied all laws of gravity. Somehow, he fit his 250 lb body entirely inside the driver’s seat, with me still in it. We stopped inches from the polished fender of a probable road rage murderer.
It’s cool though. I gave him a little wave as I walked to the passenger side of the car. I think he liked me.
QED = I’ve never been a “good driver.”
My dad, however, did teach me one invaluable rule of the road – Always drive 5 miles over the speed limit in town and 10 on the highway.
I have striven to follow this rule, and it has cost me dearly. Notwithstanding I’ve been in three accidents, one of which I could have been turned into mountain mush, I have never faltered in my belief that speeding is my right as a driver. Also, following too closely, texting while driving, and stalking drivers who cut me off. What the heck? It’s only money, right?
As I was driving home from Rexburg the other day, I was following the tried-and-true rule of my Dad – a solid 10 miles over the speed limit. Perhaps a few more, but hey. Who’s counting?
Apparently, a Utah traffic officer.
So, I see the white of his hood before he sees me. I catch the brakes to fool him into thinking that I am a “responsible driver.” Totally normal stuff. Then, I see a huge semi truck and get into the lane so the semi is between me and the cop. I grab the gas and run.
This is not normal.
I’ve never done this before. But, I’m barely even thinking. Basically, there is a rabbit in my brain just telling me that I need to get somewhere and hide. If the cop can’t see me, he can’t pull me over. I don’t know if I have enough money for rent, much less a $400 ticket. I spot an exit and speed down, one eye over my shoulder to see if I’ve lost him.
This has somehow escalated into a 1920’s gangster car chase scenario. I’m Bonnie and I’ve got an adorable 6-year-old Clyde drawing mermaids in the back seat. Totally insane.
The twinkly lights come on and I know I’ve been had. But instead of pulling over, I pull into a gas station that is conveniently placed at the end of the off-ramp. I stop the car, sit politely, and wait for my eventual doom.
What am I thinking? I’m not going to outrun a cop. That’s literally the dumbest thing I’ve ever thought or done. Even including the time I ate a cat turd thinking it was a tootsie roll.
But now I am about to get a ticket, which requires much less mouthwash but is just as unpleasant. I am about to put a new Cornballer in my speed-ticket-funded imaginary Funhouse of Munchies.
The officer gets out of his car, and Abigail doesn’t even look up. She just says, “Mom, you’re gonna get another ticket.”
I sigh, resigned. Then, suddenly, the Grinchiest idea pops into my head.
Officer: “Ma’am, do you know how fast you were going?”
Me: (pained expression on face, words like lightning) “I’m sorry, I just need to go to the bathroom really bad.”
Officer: “License and registration, please.”
Me: (hands license over, rifles through the glove compartment like a bee-stung allergic looking for a hypo of epinephrine) “Oh, ummm, I’m not sure…this is my husband’s car. Is this it? No. Is this it? I’m sorry…”
Officer: (sighs, hands license back) “Okay, ma’am. I’m going to give you a warning. Just drive a little slower next time.”
Me: (awash in relief) “Thank you so much. Really, thank you.”
I get out of the car as fast as I can and drag Abigail into the Food Stop. We go to the bathroom and I am filled with relief and guilt. Abigail, quick as usual says, “Mom, did you really need to go to the bathroom?”
It was then that the weight of what I’d done hit me. Was I really going to turn in my Honest Card to get out of a ticket? Was I going to be the kind of person who lied to a super-nice cop and my daughter all in the same day? How much was my integrity worth?
“I’m sorry, Abigail. I lied. To you and the policeman. I didn’t need to go to the bathroom.”
She looked at me. Then nodded in understanding. “Just don’t ever do it again, promise?”
My daughter forgave me easily, but I couldn’t stop the tears. The weight of that lie hung over me the rest of the way home. The cop was long gone. There was no way to ask forgiveness of him. There was nothing I could do to make up for the fact that I lied to get out of a ticket. I have been ticketed so many times that I can’t even count them all. And, in all that time, I’ve never lied to a police officer. I’ve been honest, and paid the price. And, the one time I lied, he let me go.
I suppose that a different person might have said, “Well, I better remember that trick the next time I get pulled over.” That’s not me. What happened is that I learned an amazing lesson.
The Merciful Cop and the Atonement
In all the time I’ve been driving, I’ve paid the price when I made a mistake. Justice (for the most part) had 100% control over my life. I couldn’t remember the last time that I’d made a mistake and the law had been merciful. In the 20 years of speeding, fines, and missed court appearances, I had not learned my lesson. I’d continued to drive the way I wanted to, breaking myself against the law that is implicitly just and merciless.
And then, this cop had allowed me to go unscathed. Who knew if he’d bought my lame potty-break excuse? He’d looked at me, desperate and crazy, and told me to “go and sin no more.”
We came out of the bathroom, and I vowed to tell him the truth if he was still in the parking lot. Of course, he had gone to do other good, police officery things. I’d lost my chance to tell him I was sorry for my mistake. There was only one way to repay him for his mercy. To go and sin no more.
That merciful cop taught me a lesson about the Atonement of Christ. I had broken the law – a law I knew I shouldn’t break. And, instead of trying to teach me with justice and punishment, I was taught with mercy.
I suppose I could have told everyone that I was grateful to that police officer and continued my poor behavior. I could have gone about my business, speeding, texting, driving, and eventually dying in a horrible car accident. But, understanding his mercy, and that I was completely indebted to him made me realize that the only way I could ever truly repay him was by changing the way I viewed my mistakes. I could only tell him I was thankful for his mercy by acting in a way that was more loving, considerate, and safe.
That cop taught me how to not just talk Christian, but to act Christian. Because Jesus has given us the same mercy, and the only way we can really show our thanks is with our lives.
I will always be in the debt of the merciful cop. The only way I know how to repay him is by driving the way he’d have me drive. I have not sped for two weeks. I have not talked on my phone while I drive. I have not texted. I can’t thank that cop for his mercy enough. I can’t tell him I’m sorry for lying. But, I can change my behavior to what I think he would like me to do.
That merciful cop helped me realize that God wants the same thing: To keep us safe from evils that threaten to distract us from our eternal journey. And, when we realize the immensity of our debt and the amazing gift that is the atonement of Jesus Christ, we lose our desire to speed through life and find that the rules are there so that we can truly enjoy the ride.