learning the lesson

My first car was a little MG. My parents bought it the year I started at the Junior College and it became my commuting car.  I drove it to work and I drove it up and down the open roads around my home on the east bay of northern California.  I drove that little car full out.  I learned to drive a stick shift (five speed) on my way to school and back.  And I loved it.

Now the way the brain works is fairly mechanical making judgments and decisions based on earlier experience.  So , fifty years later I’d still get behind the wheel of my car and drive full out.  I passed the other cars on the road.  I didn’t drive, I flew.  The drive to the store was a race with myself.  I set goals—I can be at milepost X in ten minutes. Oh, wow!  I shaved a minute off my time.  Trouble is I was not driving on a race track.  I wasn’t even driving a race car.

So, a few years ago when I owned a Mini Cooper I was tooling along, not of the freeway, but on a winding rural road that followed the curves of the land.  Up and down, up and down feeling good, not watching my speedometer, when suddenly a cop pulls up behind me.  “Excuse me, ma’m.  Do you know how fast you were going?” And I have to answer truthfully, “I’m sorry officer.  I don’t know.”  Then the officer surprised me, saying, “I bet this little car is fun to drive.”  And I said, “It sure is.” So he said, “You were going way too fast.  Try to hold it down and have a nice day.”

I loved that cop, and I slowed down for a while.  But, inevitably my speed crept back up.  And it caught up with me.  I got stopped on the freeway recently and I got a speeding ticket.  I wanted to be mad at the cop.  He could have given me a warning. But why would he?  I was going too fast.  And I have had warnings.  So I took the ticket and signed up for traffic school.  And I sat down and gave myself a talking to.  That’s the good thing about us humans.  We can reteach our brains if we are mindful of our thinking.  Our responses are usually pretty automatic, and I had been driving for a long time when I got that speeding ticket, but we can change.

So I slowed down.  I’ve been driving the speed limit for three weeks and I discovered something incredible.  Lots of people drive the speed limit.  I guess I was always in a race with those folks driving in the mid-80’s and I never noticed that the rest of those cars were actually sticking pretty close to the posted speed.  I thought everybody was speeding, but it wasn’t so.

Wow. And I thought how lucky we are to be given chances so we can learn and change.  If I had just slowed down back when I was driving the Mini I would have saved myself time, money and trouble.  But I guess I needed that ticket. I think this is how God works. He counsels us, he warns us, but finally if we need that ticket, we get the ticket.  Not that he’s a traffic cop.  But when we’re young and don’t understand the restraints that protect us, God is mindful of us.  And if and when we haven’t learned the lessons we should learn, at some point He stops us, and says “Hold it down, do better, and have a nice day.  But if a gentle warning isn’t enough eventually we have to pay the penalty, and maybe then we’ll listen and learn.  Eventually we have to become mindful of ourselves and of those around us.  And we see that most of the people along the way are following the rules and doing the best they can, looking out for others in their path.  And they still get where they’re going on time.

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About Karen Hopkins

Karen Hopkins (1949-) was born in Los Angeles and raised in Martinez, California. At seventeen she moved to Talcahuano, Chile. After completing her university degree she worked in London, England for Pan American Airlines and traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, and India. For twenty-six years Karen taught Spanish and English as a Second Language in a variety of settings including a private school in Panama, the "most remote school in the United States" in Ticaboo, Utah, the Navajo Reservation, and a teacher exchange in Hermosillo, Mexico. Karen and her husband traveled extensively throughout Mexico and Central America, spending many summers in the highlands of Chiapas and Guatemala . Karen currently lives in Southern Arizona, near the Mexican border.
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