Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Speeding Pilgrimage

I don’t always plod; sometimes I speed.  More careless than reckless, I am easily distracted.  My speed hovers somewhere between “heavy footed” and  “clueless.”

I was reminded of this last Tuesday.

The view from Goodnow Mountain
I took a vacation day to go hiking - called a friend and made ambitious plans to climb four fire towers in the Adirondacks.  We started early, leaving my house at 5:30 and arriving at the first trailhead by 8 o’clock.  We spent the morning summitting Vanderwhacker and Goodnow mountains.  Moderately difficult hiking, cool weather, good company, and stunning views made for a wonderful morning. 

The clock was creeping into early afternoon as we drove toward Long Lake for our third destination – Mount Arab.  Having been tailgated and passed by two vehicles on the way, I was self-conscious of holding up traffic.  I pushed the speed a bit and gave my attention to conversation with my hiking partner.  This was a mistake.  My mind never got the dual core processor upgrade.   I am a poor multi-tasker.  My wife will vouch for the fact that I can’t run two programs simultaneously.  As soon as I open the conversation program, the speed-monitoring program grinds to a halt.   The next time I looked at my speedometer, I was passing a slowing police vehicle traveling the opposite direction.  The needle was hovering around 70 – fine for the Interstate, but not good for a backcountry highway with a limit of 55.  I was low hanging fruit for this officer. 

Fifteen minutes later, the officer told me to watch my speed and to be careful pulling out.  I drove off…ticket in my hand and frustration in my heart.  “Kind of ruins the day,” my friend noted.  “Yeah, it does,” I sighed.  Then I sunk into a sullen silence, providing ample space for the rush of thoughts that followed.

     How could I have been so stupid? 
     Why do I never get off with just a warning?
     Where am I going to get the money for this?
     How many points will this be on my license?
     How long ago was that last ticket?
     Should I drive out for my court date or just send in a guilty plea?
     What will I tell to Sue?
     How could he have missed the two guys that passed me fifteen minutes earlier?
     Why can’t I learn to use cruise control?

I was angry, ashamed, and frustrated; feelings that lingered throughout our third hike.  A pity party on Mount Arab.  I was still picking confetti out of my hair when we reached the fourth fire tower of the day, Cathedral Rock.  The short hike brought us to a pavilion just before the summit.  Beside the pavilion was a large stone with a plaque.  I wish, now, that I had written down the inscription.  Instead, I can only offer a summary.  It was placed by a family as a memorial to their eleven year old son who fell to his death off a nearby cliff in 1996.

I have four children, including a son the same age as the boy who fell to his death.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to begin the day hiking with my family and to end the day mourning the death of my son.  My day of hiking was ruined by a speeding ticket; their day of hiking was ruined by the death of a son.   This brought perspective, a corrective lens for my spiritual myopia.

My sullen reaction to my speeding ticket highlights my aggrandized view of self.  The universe is crafted; the orbit is set; all things revolve around me.   But on Cathedral Rock I got a glimpse of a bigger universe, a grander story, a more complex narrative.  I am not the only character in this play; not even the star of the show.  I’m hung up on court dates and traffic fines while others are planning funerals.    I’m ashamed at the pettiness of my troubles and disappointed that something so small could put me in such a funk.

And this is why God charted this course, from the speeding journey toward Long Lake to the panting stillness on Cathedral Rock:  This was a journey not measured in miles.  God was guiding me from selfishness to self-awareness.  My troubles, because they are mine, loom large in my field of vision.  Everything from speeding tickets to allergy symptoms, from a restless night, to a stressful day, these take center stage in my drama.  But from any other vantage point, these are really quite small.  Reading this memorial, my speeding ticket shrunk in magnitude.  I needed this. God knew.

I’ll be traveling out to Long Lake again soon.  I have a court date set.  Maybe on this trip God will teach me a lesson about mercy.  Or maybe justice.  But this time I’ll be traveling with a new perspective…and I’ll be setting the cruise control.

Blog News:  With warmer weather and summer vacation I am writing less.  This piece in nearly three weeks old.  It just took a while to finish.  It's hard to sit at a computer when the sun is shining.  Plus, opportunities to write for other outlets are growing.  Those pieces often appear on the blog in one format or another, but require further editing (for length and polish) before submission.  So through the summer I'll probably only post every couple weeks.  This is by design.  I'll get back to weekly posts in the fall.   Thanks, as always, for you encouragement and support.

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