The Guy in the Sunbird

The guy in the bright-red Sunbird is trying to crawl up my tailpipe. This is just plain foolish because I'm going a steady 120 kilometers per hour, an acceptable 20 kph over the speed limit, and we're on a not-very-busy four-lane highway with plenty of room for passing. When I try my standard gambit (ever-so-gently letting my speed drop a little, to encourage tailgaters to pass) he only crawls closer: far too close, only a car-length or so from my back bumper. He's weaving back and forth, too, lunging ahead, falling back a tad, although never far enough. This is dumb. I let my speed drop a little further, down to 105, and suddenly he roars past me at blinding speed, cuts back in so close that I have to brake, and then lunges ahead at what must be at least 140. Jeez Louise. Some people must have got their drivers' licenses in a Shreddies box. (Wheaties are not big in Canada.)

You cannot be a driver without having to keep an eye on what other people are up to: watching the lanes behind for signs of a hotdogger like the guy in the Sunbird, mistrusting turn signals until the vehicle actually shows signs of turning, being suspicious of the intentions of that taxi, putting on your windshield wipers before the oncoming truck hits you with a windshield full of rain or slush, keeping a keen eye out for black ice in winter. It's simply good driving to be aware of what other drivers are doing, and to factor that into your own proceedings. It's called "defensive driving". It's really just prudence, one of the old-fashioned Cardinal Virtues, now so sadly out of fashion: the same prudence that got some people out of high-tech stocks when the inflation got so obvious, anyone not blinded by greed could see the crash coming.

Prudence does obvious things, like setting aside money for house repairs, taxes and retirement and making sure that the windows are caulked before winter. Prudence plans ahead, keeping an eye on that cloud the size of a man's hand on the horizon. More importantly, Prudence stands in opposition to the sins that make a person stupid: anger, greed, lust, envy; saying "Just wait a minute; where's this going to get you?"

I drive prudently, which is not the same thing at all as driving fearfully. Driving fearfully is almost as dangerous as driving like the guy in the Sunbird. I wish I could say that I've always lived prudently, but mostly I haven't, and as a result I have fetched up in interesting places, some of them good or at least promising, and others just plain awful. Maybe prudence is something I should have paid more attention to.

But then I remembered another four-lane highway--can it really be five years ago? Yes, I suppose it must be. I was driving south, with my two kids, along the New York Turnpike to visit my beloved sistah Deb in Staten Island. There came a point some 20-odd miles north of the Big Apple when the traffic, which had been thick and fast, took on a new and pungent urgency, and I thought, "Aieee! This is New York! I can't do this!" And then, almost a half-minute later, "Hey, I can do this. And it's *fun*!" Wherever Prudence was at that moment, she wasn't in my car.

And she wasn't in my car either when I tackled the Staten Island Parkway at rush hour, or when I crossed the Verrazano Bridge (top level), or when I got lost coming away from the Bronx Zoo and almost fetched up on Long Island, or when I cruised down 9th Avenue in Manhattan. I didn't realize until I got back home that my auto insurance had, without my knowing it, accidentally expired.... No, I wasn't prudent, driving around New York; but I felt alive as I have rarely felt alive, and I had one hell of a good time.

I'm reasonably fond of Prudence, but I am learning in middle age that Prudence can be a prude, and a prude is a killjoy, and God wants us to have at least a reasonable dollop of the jam of Joy on our prudent bread. God is joy, after all. I am starting to wonder whether perhaps prudence, like any other virtue, turns unvirtuous when you give her too much power. If lack of prudence has got me into some interesting situations, over-prudence (really fearfulness calling itself prudence) has kept me from getting out: "What makes you think you can get away with leaving?" Call it prudence or call it fear, it's still the failure to trust in God's good providence.

Now that I think about it, it occurs to me that God is not particularly prudent. A prudent God would have made the pit of an avocado a more reasonable size and given the blue-footed booby bird the ability to synthesize Vitamin C. A prudent God wouldn't have tossed in those three inimitable jokers, biology, physics, and human free will. A prudent God would have gotten Mary pregnant in her sleep so that she wouldn't have had the choice of saying, "No thank you, I don't think I'm ready for a baby just yet." A prudent God wouldn't have created a universe as outrageously abundant as the one we live in, not to mention all the other possible universes that we might not know about. A prudent God wouldn't have us falling in love; after all, it's such a risky business. Above all, a prudent God wouldn't fall in love with *us*, especially given our track record. But that seems to be what God actually does, for reasons I will never be able to understand, I suspect.

I will continue to keep an eye on the hotdoggers, not to mention those who insist on driving well under the speed limit; when I am walking by the side of the road, I promise to walk facing oncoming traffic. I will not spend money on silly things when I have outstanding bills, and I will make sure that the broken storm windows (let's not go there) get re-glazed before next winter. But I will paint my fingernails in silly colours--currently slate blue with rose overtones--for the sheer hell of it. I will, I hope and pray, learn to blow larger and louder raspberries. I will cultivate the practice of laughing loudly enough to embarrass my children. I hope one day to come sailing into the Big Apple again, driving as much like a native as I can.

Above all, I reserve the right to be joyously imprudent in the pursuit of God, since God seems to be so imprudently in pursuit of me. After all, aren't we supposed to follow God's lead?

Copyright © 2002 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 15 Jun 2002
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