The need to forgive others, even other drivers

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Recently, as my wife and I were driving through center city Camden during rush hour, I spotted in the rearview mirror a white sedan that had clearly seen better days, driving quite erratically. It was zig-zagging through slow moving traffic, at times riding on the shoulder, nearly on the sidewalk. At one point a pickup truck nearly collided with a third car avoiding the wild driver.

Of course, we all see this kind of thing all the time on the highway — people weaving in and out of traffic, passing on the shoulder, exiting from the middle lane, tailgating, driving too slowly in the passing lane, and so on.

And how do we react? Compassion? Sympathy? Patience? Tolerance? Understanding?

Not if you’re anything like me. In those situations, I put on the Robe of the Righteous Road Warrior because even though that erratically driven car may have absolutely no effect on me personally, it is the principle of the matter that is important.

These drivers need to learn to drive the right way, like me. So, I’ll condemn those drivers, make statements about them, point out all their mistakes, even allow myself to get a little agitated, all while wearing my Robe of the Righteous Road Warrior.

In the 12th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus warns us to “beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets.” 

Jesus is not only telling us to be wary of such individuals who like to make big shows of themselves, but he is also warning us to beware that we do not become like the scribes: showy, self aggrandizing. Simply put — arrogant.

Arrogance carries a number of characteristics, and among them is the intolerance of anyone who does not act — or drive — like we do. Along with intolerance is another characteristic that arrogant people possess: a difficulty with forgiveness because whatever is wrong could not possibly be because of me.

In some situations, we may feel we are so justified, so right in what we think — a lot like how Jesus describes the long robe wearing scribes — that we don’t see the reason for forgiveness — to ask for or to give.

So practicing forgiveness can be difficult and problematic.

Unfortunately, it seems that we see more and more opportunities to practice forgiveness in our world every day.

We see in the media a number of celebrities and even whole corporations who ask the public’s forgiveness when they have done or said something wrong. Do we truly forgive them, or do we laugh at them around the water cooler?

In December, 2012, just hours after his 6-year-old daughter was gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a father stood in front of cameras to publicly forgive the gunman that took the life of his daughter and of 26 others.

In September, 2007, in Lancaster County, Pa., a man stormed into a one-room schoolhouse and shot 10 young girls, killing five. He then killed himself. Amish community went to the killer’s burial service at the cemetery, hugged the widow, and hugged other members of the killer’s family. They even donated money to the killer’s widow and her three young children.

Would I be able to follow such examples of forgiveness? I couldn’t even forgive the erratic nature of some stranger’s driving.

As my wife and I approached a red traffic light in heavy traffic that day in Camden, I kept a close eye on the white car as he inched past me on the right.  I watched him make a right without stopping at the red light even though the sign clearly said no turn on red. This guy is a menace to the roadways, I said to my wife.

I watched him as he pulled up to the emergency entrance at Cooper Hospital, as he got out of his car, as he ran around to the back door, as he pulled a child from the back seat of car, as he ran into the emergency room.

With a blast from a horn behind me, I realized that the light had turned green. Slowly pulling away I knew it was time to take off my long and heavy robe.

Dean P. Johnson teaches in Camden and is a member of Mary Mother of Mercy Parish, Glassboro.