There I was, right in the middle of an intersection when my power steering went out. I was waiting to turn left and suddenly had no means of doing so. It was dark, it was rush hour, and I was blocking cars on all sides.
My young son was in his car seat and was motioning for me to turn the wheel, saying, “Go like dis, go like dis.” But, alas, there was no going like dat.
They say you have a great sense of humor if you don’t need time to pass before finding a mishap hilarious. For example, if you’re falling out of a canoe and you’re already laughing even before you hit the water, you have a great sense of humor. Well, I must have one because the timing, the setting, and the predicament were all so terrible they struck me as funny. I mean, what are the odds of stalling in the worst possible spot? What can you do but laugh?
However, not all passing motorists shared my amusement. And here is where it became a study in human nature. People, as it turns out, can indeed be categorized. Look at the vision of the Tree of Life-here people fall into four distinct categories: The folks who never held the rod in the first place, those who partook of the fruit and then fell away in embarrassment, the lost, and those who persevered and won the day.
As we apply the scriptures to ourselves, we can all identify with one of those groups. But in this parable, I found people falling into other, perhaps less spiritual, categories. In your heart of hearts, which one would you be?
The Honkers and Wavers
The first group to catch my attention were the angry drivers for whom my stalled car represented every slight they had ever suffered. They sneered, they flipped me off, they honked those long honks that illustrate the Doppler Effect, and they screeched around me on two wheels to further illustrate how totally in the way I was. (“Look,” my son pointed out. “Dat one man waved.“)
The second group was filled with eye-rollers whose unspoken message was, “Why does everything happen to me?” These are the same people who suck their teeth in disgust when they “always” choose the wrong supermarket line, and they sigh heavily so the offensive slowpoke will know they have inconvenienced others. It is just so hard for them to live in a world with idiots who can’t move along.
The third group was the robotic group of drivers whose memory banks clicked in and told them how to best navigate around an iceberg. As unemotional as a logarithm, they simply solved the problem and zoomed on their way.
The fourth group was the smallest, but perhaps most appreciated. These were the drivers whose wistful smiles told you they weren’t blaming; in fact they had been there before, themselves, and sympathized completely. They offered a friendly wave or a thumbs up, to encourage me to hang in there. I like to think this group is the most intelligent, immediately realizing that I have not done this on purpose, just to ruin other drivers’ days, which Groups One and Two apparently think.
The Imaginary Friends
I like to imagine there’s a fifth group, the group of people who would actually stop and help, push the car, direct traffic perhaps, but this group did not materialize that night.
The One That Helped
Group Six was a small one, in fact I was the only one in it. This was the group that found it all waaay too amusing. Eventually a policeman helped me out of there, I managed to get enough power steering fluid to get home, and my son and I had a heyday retelling the incident to the rest of the family that night.
Like you, I have since encountered many a stalled vehicle with an often frantic driver, wishing they could get out of the way and hoping for a rescue. And I always wonder if they’re taking the same mental notes I did, fascinated by the wide range of reactions people have to the exact same event. Are we like Nephi or like Laman and Lemuel? Same events, but drastically different responses.
Like most parables, this can apply to other situations as well. I was in a long line at the post office recently, and as soon as the woman ahead of me was called to the clerk’s counter, she began dropping the one letter she was there to mail. Again. And again. Embarrassed and exasperated, she picked it up for the third time. I was already hearing the sighs behind me. So I said to the woman, “I have days like that.” You can’t imagine the flood of relief that washed over her face and she laughed. It even lightened the mood of the folks behind me as they had to realize we’ve all had days like that.
Another good place to find people falling into these categories is in Sacrament meeting when a parent has to drag a crying child from the chapel. You’ve probably been that parent once or twice, yourself. And you see the same range of reactions. There’s the stern, scolding look if you didn’t jump up and scoot out of there fast enough. There are the weary, “Why is it always them?” looks. And then there are the smiling parents whose eyes are trying to tell you they understand completely, and want you to know you’re not alone. On rare occasion, there’s even the wonderful person who follows you out and offers to help, allowing you to go back in and hear the rest of the meeting. (This often works great, by the way, as a deterrent to crying in the first place: If a child knows he’s going to be handed off to a stranger, he’ll think twice before causing Mom or Dad to haul him out of there.)
So which group do you fall into? Are you consistent, or does it vary depending on your patience and location? Do you behave differently in front of ward members than alone in a car? Otherwise benevolent people can surprise you when they get behind the wheel, even “good LDS” people. You probably know some, yourself.
It’s a study in vigilance and steadiness; we don’t always respond with the charity we’re taught. But just in case the stranded drivers are keeping count, I hope I’ll always fall into Category Four.
Joni Hilton’s lastest book is just out! “FUNERAL POTATOES-THE NOVEL” (Covenant Communications) is now in LDS bookstores. She has written 17 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host.
She is also the author of the “As the Ward Turns” series, “The Ten-Cow Wives’ Club,” and “The Power of Prayer.” Hilton is a frequent writer for “Music & The Spoken Word,” many national magazines, and can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California.