Thursday, June 15, 2006

I feel so connected to humanity right now.

It'll fade, of course, but for the moment I'm rolling with it.

This morning I was driving my son to basketball camp down a main road of our town. It's a long, straight road, two lanes each way, surrounded much of its length by trees and neighborhoods. Speed limit is 40, which can be tricky even for a sedate driver like myself since even as the road boasts no curves it is slightly hilly, making it deceptively easy to let your mph get away from you.

Almost immediately upon turning onto this road from my subdivision today, a driver advancing toward me on the other side flashed his lights. By the time I raised my hand to wave thanks, I faced a flash from another driver behind him. Soon, another.

Moments later I eased by a tree-shadowed motorcycle cop at a parade-worthy 38 mph, like Cleopatra cruising the Nile in a purple convertible, in love with the world and every creature in it.

I still remember when I discovered this wondrous manifestation of human empathy. I was riding with my father and couldn't have been more than ten years old. We were humming along and suddenly cars from the other side were flashing us. When he explained what this meant, I felt a swell of awe, almost enough to bring tears. (I was a very sensitive child. Shut up.) How did this communication evolve? How does everyone know?

I spent some time this morning pondering this phenomenon and my feelings about it. It's not like you're saving anyone's life with your headlights; it's just a ticket. But consider: Most people are going to help someone whose life is endangered. We expect that of each other. At the very least a driver passing by as you smash into a guardrail and splatter against your own windshield will trouble to fish out his or her cell and call 911. More likely, people will stop and do their best to save your brain-damaged ass. Extreme circumstances bring out the best in all but the most apathetic of us.

But why trouble yourself to help a stranger avoid a traffic ticket? Precisely because it's not an extreme circumstance: It's a common experience. Everyone who drives will get one, or will at least have the "oh, shit" moments in which you fear you're about to get one, so we all know how much it sucks.

Look, I have respect bordering at times on reverence for the law and its officers. I'm not celebrating the screwing of The Man. What I love so much is the "we're all in this together" mentality that seems so instinctive, so based in common experience and empathy. I think it's beautiful.


At 1:53 PM, Blogger Sassy Pants said...

I too remember being let in on that secret code of human decency created for no other reason than "I've been there, and will try to save another human from that experience."

It does make one a little more hopeful.

At 10:40 PM, Blogger Tense Teacher said...

Well said...You're correct -- It's rare, but once in a while people surprise us in a good way.

At 11:45 AM, Anonymous Cassandra said...

Yup, I remember when I first learned about the flashing of the lights. It is pretty cool that people are willing to help each other out of the ticket situation.
Great post!!

At 1:34 PM, Blogger Shell said...

Aw. Thanks guys. I wondered if everyone was going to laugh at me. :)

At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Bug said...

I agree with ya on this one, it's nice to see people looking out for one another even if it is just a ticket. I remeber when I first learned about the lights thing and kept asking my dad if they taught that in drivers ed *chuckle*

At 10:09 AM, Blogger CrankyProf said...

Of course, if the cops catch you flashing your lights and warning the other drivers about a speed trap, you'll get a ticket.

Not that I'm bitter, or anything.

Plus, f you smart off to the cop, and ask him if it's the end of the month quota time, or what, they get even pissier.

Not that I'd know from experience, or anything. PA state troopers are the BEST. *snort*

At 12:16 PM, Blogger NinjaMama said...

Did you ever find out how it started?

I remember moving to NY from MA when I was a young(er) adult and wondering if it was the same...IT WAS!!!

I have to be honest though. The real a**wh*** who drives like a maniac and NEVER gets caught really pisses me off.

At 1:03 PM, Blogger Shell said...

Heh. It is true that there are few greater pleasures than seeing the jackhole who blew by you with his hazards on pulled over down the road.


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