I was walking down Seventh Street in New Orleans at 4:20 pm, heading for a turtle mochassippi at the Community Coffee shop on Magazine, when a man in a silver Ford got tired of waiting to cross Magazine and launched forward. He crashed the rear end of a green Honda Accord that was speeding down Magazine and it forced the lady driver up onto the sidewalk, hitting a tree. Somehow she managed to brake enough in that split second to keep from crashing into the building, even with the airbag in her face.
People were sitting at tables in front of Joey K’s restaurant on the sidewalk, just a few feet from where the crashed car landed. If someone had been sitting or walking in that exact space they would have surely been killed. I called 911 and within two minutes the fire department in the next block had men there, using their truck to block traffic. Within two more minutes a police car arrived. The EMS dispatch on the phone promised an ambulance shortly.
The driver who launched into the street causing the crash got out of his car briefly, looked at the car he had hit, backed up out of the center of the intersection, and pulled his car to parallel the street in the parking lane. As he got out to stand beside his car he looked dazed, more like a drunk person who didn’t know what he had just done than a sane person who would check on the person he had just hit. He didn’t appear to be hurt, just unsure of what was going on. So he just stood there.
Several people helped get the driver’s side car door open and said, “She’s okay.” She was actually stuck in place inside the totaled car with an airbag in her face. I think they meant she was alive because she couldn’t really be “okay.” I walked on down the street to get my drink as the firemen attended to her.
I shook my head at the insanity of how many of us drive like “bats out of hell” between three and six pm each day after work. How reckless we are! How completely out of touch we are regarding the sanctity of life, and how literally delusional we are in believing that making up an extra minute by driving crazy is ever worth it.
I wished I could sit in judgment of “those people” who act crazy like that. But earlier I had felt as rushed as that man who pulled out into traffic to save a minute, except I was also angry that every single street in uptown New Orleans seems to be destroyed these days, and I was frustrated that it had again taken me fifteen minutes to drive one mile from the Rayne United Methodist church to my own church on Nashville Avenue, and another fifteen minutes to drive back that same mile to see my spiritual director on Napoleon Avenue. Can I just admit that our city is a very demolished city and will be for years to come? No, I have to get mad about it all over again most every day.
Now here’s the most paradoxical and embarrassing part of this story. I rush around as a monk in the world, trying to make it from one contemplative group to another. I feel that same pressure to hurry and make it across an intersection as I drive from a spiritual direction session with someone, where I was seeking to focus on the quiet voice of their soul, to serve in our ecumenical ministry with our street friends. How crazy am I to long to be an expression of God’s presence in one place and the next, and yet to dare other cars to get in my way on the drive between the two? That is my messy contemplative life.
Could there be something wrong with this picture? Could I be successful in being present to others one minute, actually sensing the very presence of God inside them, and a failure at being present behind the wheel? Yes and Yes. Sadly, but totally true, Yes.
So take this as my confession, my full admission that I, who treasure the moments of practicing the presence of God at home and with others all over town, am the same guy who totally forgets the presence of God behind the wheel. Do I have some work to do on myself? Hell yeah! Do I have a growing edge where I really need to expand my practice? For sure. Must I learn to Let Love Rule while driving through the brokenness of New Orleans? It might be my most important lesson these days.
Dear God, Creator of every being, One who indwells every single person I pass on the street, be with me now. Fill the man who crashed the lady, and the lady who was rushing, and me with the sanity we need to realize Life is so much more precious than we know when we are driving. Convert our driving into a place of contemplative presence, a place where we can actually Let Love Rule. And help us discover a gate of heaven opening before us, even on the demolished and dangerous streets of New Orleans. This we pray.
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture, now available as a Kindle book.