Occasionally things happen which shock us and cause us to take stock of where our society is and what it has become.
Just such an incident happened to me a few years ago. I was trying to help an Eastern European immigrant family with an issue over their children’s schooling, and we had arranged to meet at McDonald’s in the Blanchardstown Centre, It was early evening, but since it was winter it was dark. As I turned into the car park I had to swerve to avoid an erratically driven car that was leaving. There appeared to be a family inside, with kids bouncing around the back seat each holding their boxed happy meal. The woman who was driving seemed to be flustered, and I noticed that she had forgotten to turn on her headlights and was heading out onto a dark road with no lights.
I did what any helpful person would do in such a scenario. I beeped my horn to catch her attention, then pointed down at her headlights and silently mouthed to her, “Your lights are off!” Then, having done my good deed for the day, I found a vacant parking space and parked up.
As I was picking up my diary and papers from the passenger seat I heard a hammering on my driver’s side window – so I wound the window down to see what was going on. Imagine my surprise to find a large and aggressive man was screaming obscenities through the window at me!
I stared at him, wondering if I was being mugged. It seemed unlikely, although I’m middle-aged and grey-haired I’m still fairly large in build and I would imagine that muggers would tend to go for softer targets than me.
Finally I made out what he was screaming at me, “You f***ing b******! You think you own the road and can order my wife around!”
The situation was so surreal that I actually had to suppress an urge to burst out laughing. But I said to the large aggressive man, “Hold on, I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. Your lights weren’t switched on. I was letting your wife know because I’d hate the thought of a car full of kids driving up the N3 with no lights.”
“You f***ing w*****!” Large aggressive man continued to scream, “Are you trying to be smart? Come out of that car and fight and I’ll break your f***ing neck!”
At that moment, I have to confess, I was tempted to forget that I was a pastor and to let the old nature take over. This guy was seriously starting to aggravate me. However, I knew that no good was going to come of a pastor jumping out of his car to brawl with someone in the car park of McDonald’s. So I stayed sitting in my car.
Unfortunately this only seemed to enrage him even more, so he started repeatedly kicking the door of my car. I had to sit there staring stonily through the windscreen until his foot got sore and he got back in his own car. His wife drove away – this time she remembered to switch her lights on.
After I had finished my meeting, as I was driving home, I reflected on what had just happened. I whispered to myself, “I know one thing. If I see another car driving without lights then I’m not going to try to help!”
And that was the moment when I realised how easy it can be for us to become part of the problem of incivility in our society. I was moved to repentance for how I would allow one incident to make me a less caring person. I pulled in at the side of the road and prayed, “Lord, help me to be the kind of person who will try to help others, even if it means that stuff like this happens and the door of my car gets kicked in.”
So, if you’re out driving at night and you forget to put your lights on, don’t be surprised if another driver waves at you or flashes his lights at you. Think of it as one poor individual doing his bit to create a culture of helpfulness and civility.