I sat in the bathroom; my stomach in knots and everything below that organ protesting violently. I wished I could have blamed it on a virus, or Montezuma’s revenge, or eating something slightly past its due date. No such luck. I was being sick because I needed to get into my car and go downtown.
For most people such an activity is no big deal. For me, it was probably the most stressful thing in my life to that moment — akin to putting my face in the water when I took swimming lessons as a kid. I never finished that lesson, or learned to swim. I did learn to drive, however. That was my first mistake.
The powers-that-were in those days, my immediate superiors, insisted that I learn to drive and get my license before I went overseas. Driving was never an issue with me. I liked public transportation then and still like it now. Leaving all the headaches to the guy up front and simply remembering where to get off sounds like a good plan to me. No muss, no fuss.
However, back then, at the beginning of my career as a missionary, I was very obedient and signed up for driving lessons. It was easier than I thought it would be. I did just fine, completing the course in seven lessons and getting my license on my first try. No muss, no fuss. After gaining my license, I never drove again in my homeland.
The first problem arose when I bought the car. I had learned to drive in an automatic. “Betsy” wasn’t. She had gears that needed shifting. I was barely capable of handling a car that almost did everything for itself, let alone manage one that needed to be told what to do.
My country of service had lots of hills, hence lots of reason to shift gears. We won’t even talk about the volume of traffic that had to be negotiated. Then, of course, there were cows and pedestrians to be avoided, neither of which seemed conscious of the important fact that cars kill — especially those driven by people who, in theory, know what they are doing but leave a whole lot to be desired when it comes down to practical realities.
I was terrified that I would hit someone and end up in jail forever. I was terrified that I would stall the car on a hill and have a multitude of angry drivers piled up behind me. That, unhappily, did happen several times. The bathroom breaks before heading out became more frequent. Lots of muss and fuss.
Then there was the momentous day when I faced the roundabout. Actually, it wasn’t my first time at entering a traffic circle, or of hoping to get out the other side in one piece and on the right road. However, it was the definitive point in time when I realized what a danger I was to myself and others.
I approached the circle. As usual, traffic was heavy, and I waited for a break. The drivers behind me were not impressed. It was a point of national pride not to be intimidated by the fact that there might not be enough space for your vehicle to fit. The other guys would move to accommodate you, right? Unhappily, I was a different nationality.
I looked both ways, closed my eyes, and stepped on the gas.
That I got around the circle and out the other side without killing myself or someone else was evidence of the grace of God. I had not been conscious of closing my eyes. Only later did I realize what I had done. Then I really was sick.
Fear possessed my every waking hour, even when I wasn’t driving.
More than thirty years later, someone coined a phrase that fits what I did. I simply “got off the bus.”
I was driving because someone else thought I should, not because I had ever wanted to. I didn’t need to drive. There was public transportation available. I was a danger to society. Added to that, I got physically ill just thinking about getting into the car. Fear was my constant companion. None of these things could possibly be honouring to God. Perhaps I should have persisted. I might have if other lives hadn’t been at stake. So, I “got off” — I stopped driving.
Catch a bus.
Now I’m afraid of driving with other people.
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