On minivans, the power of words, and the finger

I spend a lot of time in the car these days. To school, to work, to school, to work, to grandma’s, to church, to school, to work… I drive a minivan which, I have no problem saying, isn’t top of the line or anything. But it’s comfortable, and it’s easy to get the kids in and out, and it’s reliable, and we can fit lots of stuff in it.

The one thing I really don’t enjoy about the family vehicle we selected is this. In the three or four years I’ve been driving it, I’ve come to one conclusion: Nobody wants to drive behind a minivan. I don’t know why, but I suspect people think that minivan driver equals either distracted mom or elderly gentleman. Fine, yes, in the interest of total disclosure, sometimes I am the distracted mom driver. But really—I’m a good driver. My record is spotless (if I write that, have I just jinxed it?). In any case, it doesn’t seem to matter whether I’m keeping up with the flow of traffic or even speeding a little. There’s something about the back end of a minivan that screams at other drivers, “QUICKLY! PASS ME NOW OR BE TRAPPED FOREVER!”

On one of my many back-and-forth to school/work routes when I was about 6 months pregnant with my youngest, the car behind me rode my tail all the way through the residential area near my house. When people do this, my heart rate rises and I get shaky. Why are they tailing me? Did I do something wrong? Am I being followed? (See previous post about watching too much Law & Order.) The speed limit on this particular street was 25, and it’s clear the road was constructed with the intention to keep drivers from being able to speed—it’s windy, some parts are paved with stone, and there are little roundabouts that force you to brake.

So, in my minivan, I’m really going as fast as I can around these little roundabouts. I stop at a stop sign. The woman behind me stops, still right on my tail. I make a turn; so does she. I drive down the next road on my route, and once again she rides my bumper until we come to the next stop sign. At which point I come to a complete stop, and glance in my rearview mirror, and there it is.

Zing. That finger. And she didn’t just flash it at me. She waved it around up in her windshield for good measure, you know, in case I missed it. I pulled forward through the intersection and watched her make a right turn behind me and pull into a driveway… Oh my goodness, she’s my neighbor. We live on the same block. I burst into tears and drove up to the next street and into my own driveway, where I sat, shaking, and tried to calm myself.

It’s been more than a year since this incident, which I’m guessing many people would have shrugged off with a “Whatever.” But it’s as fresh in my mind today as it was the day it happened, and it still bothers me. I wish I could just forget things like this, believe me. But even though this complete stranger and I never exchanged words, her words—in the form of that one ridiculous finger—struck me, and they stuck. If we had been walking down the street, and she was in a hurry, and I had stepped into her path, would she have been so bold as to say those incredibly rude words associated with that finger to my face? Highly unlikely, yet it sure felt as though that’s what she had done.

Whether spoken or indicated through a gesture—words hurt. And when thrown about carelessly and without regard to the feelings of another, they have the power to crush and destroy. Warnings about taming the tongue are all over the Bible.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue… —Proverbs 18:21

And then James writes:

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire… setting on fire the entire course of life. … No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. —James 3:5-10

Full of deadly poison. Now that scares me. But it’s the last part that breaks my heart. With our tongues—when we don’t exercise the simple discipline of silence, just holding our tongues—we curse people.

People God made. People God loves. People He loves as much as He loves you. Someone who lost a loved one this morning. Someone with a broken heart. Someone who just lost a job. Someone who doesn’t know that God loves them, and that they are wanted. Or a very tired pregnant lady who is just trying to get home after a long day to hug her husband and little girl.

Words stick with me, and that includes the words I’ve said to others in a burst of anger or moment of carelessness. I go to bed some nights, my own words rolling around in my head, regretting every one and kicking myself for not having the restraint to just keep my mouth shut. I hate to think that I’ve made someone feel the way that woman made me feel that day, though I’m certain that I am guilty of doing so.

It’s inevitable that I’ll be flipped off again in the future, so I’ll see you in therapy for that one. For now I’m going to hold onto the memory of that brief interaction as a reminder for myself that in a moment of extreme frustration, the best solution—and the best way to not ruin someone else’s day or worse—is to just be kind. Be patient. Keep your mouth shut… and keep your hands on the steering wheel.


3 thoughts on “On minivans, the power of words, and the finger

  1. Pamela Johnson says:

    Wonderful article. Truth be told, I have never done the finger sign although about 15 years ago under great stress I shook my thumb at a car for cutting me off and nearly killing me. (Does that count?)

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