Monday, July 5, 2010

Running the Yellow Light -- A Lesson in Mercy

If a person doesn't understand obedience in light of love, he can never understand mercy. It is through forgiveness for disobedience that one finds mercy. Fr. John Hardon defines mercy this way:
The disposition to be kind and forgiving. Founded on compassion, mercy differs from compassion or the feeling of sympathy in putting this feeling into practice with a readiness to assist. It is therefore the ready willingness to help anyone in need, especially in need of pardon or reconciliation. (Catholic Dictionary online)
A person who is obedient and loves is less often in search of mercy or forgiveness. They follow the rules and stay the straight and narrow out of love because they have trained their will to do so. This is quite a difficult task for fallen man, but all things are possible with God, as we know. The wonder is that His mercy endures forever, so we can always have hope.

I had the chance to make obedience, love (in this case, it took the form of respect for authority) and mercy vividly clear to my daughter the other day while I was driving her to a friend's house. I was approaching an intersection and the light had turned yellow. Instead of stopping, I proceeded through the intersection. As I did, the light turned red above me. And, behind me came the lights and sirens from a police officer who was facing the opposite direction at the light and watched me go through the intersection.

I didn't think I had done anything wrong, but of course, I pulled over and asked my daughter to hand me my purse. The officer approached the car and the conversation proceeded something like this:

Officer: "What could be so important that you would run a red light?"

Me: "Nothing Officer, I didn't think I had run a red light, Sir. I'm so sorry, I thought it was yellow as I went through it."

Officer: "Do you know the law regarding yellow lights in Virgina?"

Me: "You are supposed to proceed with caution, Sir."

Officer: "No, you are supposed to stop at the white line because the red light is imminent."

Me: "Yes, Sir."

Officer: "You are training a future driver," he said, referring to my 10 year old daughter sitting next to me. "You should be more concerned about obeying the law."

Me: "Yes, Sir. That's true."

Officer: "Let me have your license."

Me: "Yes, Sir," I said politely, and smiled as I handed him my license.

The officer took the license and strode authoritatively back to his cruiser. He sat in the front seat where I could see him writing and putting information into his computer. I turned to my daughter and smiled.

Annie: "Are you scared, Mama?"

Me: "No, I'm not scared. If I did something wrong, I deserve a ticket."

Annie: "But what did you do wrong?"

Me: "Well, I guess going through the yellow light was wrong. But, what's more important is what he observed me do. His job is to keep people safe, and if he thinks that I was not driving safely, then I have to respect that."

Annie: "I see," she said, "will Daddy be mad?"

Me: "Maybe, but he'll be happier that we weren't in an accident if I did run a red light."

Annie: "It's important to follow the rules, right? Or, someone could get hurt."

Me: "Yes, that's why the virtue of obedience is so important. People are given rules in life to keep them safe on earth, and protect their souls from eternal death."

Annie: "What does that have to do with a ticket?"

Me: "If I wasn't obeying man's laws, how can I hope to obey God's laws."

Annie: "Oh!"

Me: "Don't worry, this is a good lesson for both of us."

The conversation drifted on to something else as we waited for the officer to reappear at my window with papers for me to sign. He approached the car without his clipboard. So, I reached over and got the registration ready to hand to him.

Officer: "Here's your license, Ma'am."

I stared at him in disbelief. Then, he grinned, and I got a big smile on my face.

Me: "Oh, God bless you!"

Officer: "Please be more cautious in the future."

Me: "YES, SIR!"

I drove away, waving at the officer, without a ticket. Then, I looked at Annie with one more lesson to teach about this moment.

Me: "I was just shown mercy for an offense because I was respectful, cooperative and told the truth. Always tell the truth, Annie. Try the best you can to be obedient. We all make mistakes -- some we don't intend to make, like this one. Mercy is always available if you are good and loving and sorry for what you've done. People will know you are sincere -- God will know you are sincere."

Annie: "Okay, Mama."

I dropped my daughter at her friend's house and proceed back to the intersection where I had been stopped only to see the same officer ticketing another driver. I can only guess at what the offense might have been, or even what the attitude of the driver was in the moment. I said a little prayer for the person receiving the ticket.

What I do know is this -- I was grateful for his kindness and mercy toward me when he pulled me over that day. It was a good reminder to me to always drive safely, and an excellent opportunity to teach my daughter a lesson about living a life of virtue.

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