Spiritual Direction On A Back Road In Florida
Published: July 21, 2011
It was a svelte green beast with lovely tailfins, and the first car I ever drove. Unfortunately, my father’s beloved Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 was quite huge and I couldn’t judge distances very well. And as I was taking the parking portion of my driving test, I did something that would be preserved in family lore forever: I knocked over the stop sign.
At that point, I turned to the police officer sitting next to me and said quietly, “I guess the test is over.” He said, “Darn right,” and then I burst into tears.
It took me seven years before I regained enough confidence to get behind the wheel again. At that point I was living in Gainesville, Fla., and I decided to shell out some money on driving lessons. Buzz, the driving instructor, was what Southerners call a “good old boy,” a no-nonsense, down-home fellow who never flinched as he sat beside me, although I have to believe he was tempted at times.
As we drove along the back roads of Gainesville, I gradually began developing some confidence, but there was one habit that Buzz wanted me to lose, and fast. You see, I tended to glance into the rearview mirror just a bit too long. At times it was to see if anyone was tailgating me, but to be honest, sometimes I was just checking my lipstick. And whenever he caught me at it, Buzz would calmly drawl, “Keep your eyes on the road.”
As the years passed, I’ve really come to cherish that advice. So many of us are obsessed with what’s behind us. There are some mornings when I’m having my first cup of coffee when suddenly wretched scenes from my past start wreaking havoc with my heart. Why did I say that to so-and-so? Why did I do that (choose one) stupid, reckless, immoral thing?
Here’s an important disclaimer though: Buzz was a practical fellow, so of course he realized the importance of the occasional backward glance. Clearly, if you’re on a two-lane road and you spot a long line of cars creeping along behind you, it could be time to speed up a bit.
Likewise, it’s essential to have a reasonable grasp on our past. After all, there could be a friend anxiously waiting for us to apologize for a past wrongdoing, or someone hoping we’ll make good on a promise we made weeks ago. It also helps to look back now and again and see the hand of God in our lives, steering us, ever so gently, away from the shoulder and back onto the road.
Sadly, though, people who constantly fixate on the past tend to torment themselves with old sins. There are times when I stare into the rearview mirror of life and am absolutely aghast at the girl I see there. Really, how could I ever have fallen for such wild guys; imbibed so many White Russians—and generally believed that life’s deepest meaning was “party hearty”?
Of course, I know the sins of my younger days have been forgiven through the sacrament of confession. Problem is, despite our intellectual understanding of God’s mercy, there is still that thing called the heart, and at times it may be pummeled by storms of remorse.
This chewing over the past, however, is a big waste of precious time, as Father Daniel Considine notes in “Confidence in God,” a truly wonderful book. “Never go back to the past,” he writes. Avoid “thinking over something foolish you have done and regretting it.” Instead, he says, “There is nothing so wise as to live in the present.”
Fortunately, I finally passed that driving test, and I’m happy to report that I never knocked over another stop sign. I left Gainesville many years ago, and I don’t know what happened to Buzz, or, frankly, whether he is still alive.
However, I like to picture him sometimes, zooming along a back road in Gainesville, perhaps with another nervous student at his side. And if I were to meet him again, I would tell him that to this day, whenever I find myself peering just a bit too long in the rearview mirror, I swear I can hear him drawling, “Keep your eyes on the road.”
Buzz didn’t realize it, I’m sure, but he was not just a great driving instructor; he was also, in his own, down-home way, a rather wonderful spiritual guide.
Artwork is by Jef Murray (www.jefmurray.com). Readers may e-mail the Murrays at email@example.com.