When Surrender is Not an Option

10 05 2010

It was our second anniversary, and we were headed down a certain freeway that I now avoid with a superstitious dread.  The man in the green Nissan to my right decided to change lanes very quickly and without warning, which would have been tolerable if not for the fact that I was already in that space.  There’s this annoying principle of matter that says that no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time, which is why I reacted very quickly to save my car from certain destruction.  Unfortunately, there’s also a physical constant called a friction coefficient, which does not change no matter how fast a person’s reflexes are.  I avoided colliding with the reckless driver, but my car went into a fishtail, as the road beneath me seemed to turn into a well-greased slab of slightly melted ice.  It’s funny, really, how static friction is so much stronger than kinetic friction.  Once the car skids, the tires glide across the asphalt with amazing ease.  The next thing I knew, I was staring straight at the concrete divider.  I steered hard away from it, but I had to stomp on the gas to make the car move in the other direction again.  Merely turning the wheel wasn’t cutting it.  Then I was facing the other way, and I had to turn the wheel and hit the gas to get it back again.  Back and forth, and back and forth again, the car slid one way and then the next, and there seemed to be no getting it straight again.  When the blood was coursing through my veins with an adrenaline high like three pots of coffee, I felt like I was living life at two-hundred miles per hour.  Actually, that’s the speed of a nerve impulse, so I really was living at two-hundred, but I digress.  At least I was able to get the car into a predictable oscillation.  That, alone, was a small comfort.  Still, getting the tires to stop squealing and getting the car to move in a straight line again would have been nice.  I was surprised at exactly how much care was required to shrink the back and forth motion to a slight veering.  A little less gas each time and a gentler steering got it to a point where it was barely moving back and forth at all.  In fact, if the tires had not been skidding, my path of travel would have been perfectly normal.

But the tires were still skidding.  I could not simply return to normal driving, or I would end up crunched like an empty soda can against the concrete wall.  Fighting the great back and forth movements was scary, but the battle was an easy one to fight.  Once the car was basically going straight, I found myself wondering what I was going to do next.  For the longest time, I was driving straight down the road with squealing tires that had about as much grip on the road as melted butter.  I was going straight, but only if I concentrated on it.  This was the hardest part, because I began to seriously consider whether the car would ever regain traction again.  It seemed to take forever, with no progress, and I was exhausted and shaking.

What unnerves me most about the event is that an idea crossed my mind that there really was nothing left to do but let the car do its own thing and be done with it, to give up and have a collision.  But…no matter how unbearable the situation was at the time, the alternative had to be worse.  No matter how long this continued, even if I felt that I couldn’t do it anymore, there was never any point in giving up.

“What do I do now?!” I wondered again and again.  The car was going straight, for crying out loud!  Then I tried taking my foot completely off of the gas and let the road move the wheels.  Eventually, enough friction between the two got them moving at the same speed and in the same direction.  After what seemed like forever, the squealing subsided, and I was back to driving the same as normal.  I was shaking like a leaf, and the world seemed several times brighter than midday sunlight, but we were alive, and the tires were gripping the road again.

Years later, I was riding in the back seat of someone else’s car, and I heard the familiar squeal of someone else’s car coming the other way.  At first, I couldn’t tell which car it was, because they were all moving straight ahead.  A man in a large truck had gone into a fishtail and managed to get it under control, in so much as that he was going straight, but his tires were still slipping and sliding along.  In that moment, I knew what he was thinking, and he chose the option of surrender.  From a straight path of travel, he suddenly swerved right, into the car beside him, then left, into another car.  He got his truck to a stop, but he had to wreck it and a couple of others to do so.  In that moment of fatigue, when there seemed to be no hope in sight, he chose the unthinkable alternative of surrender.  After getting it mostly under control, without regaining traction, he simply gave up.

I think of this now, because recently I saw the car in front of me fishtail, and the driver ultimately spun in circles and stopped, facing backward.  In fact, whenever I see the telltale wavy skid marks in the road, I watch to see what the outcome will be.  Almost always, they end in a great big loop like a question mark.

We fight, and we fight hard, and then we fight some more.  Then we wonder if there’s any hope, or we wonder if it’s worth the trouble.  No matter how unthinkable the alternative is, people usually give in to that unthinkable alternative.  Swerving back and forth is a nightmare, but it beats the alternative.  Life is full of such cases.  At what point do we give in to sin, say it’s too much temptation to bear?  How much is too much?  It’s never too much, because as long as we are still fighting, we are better off than the alternative.  Yet, there is a threshold for everyone, a point of striving beyond which they will not venture.  It’s the test of tenacity.

How seriously do you take your faith?  Will you keep it under adverse circumstances?  Will you keep it if those circumstances appear to have no end?  Is an endless arduous battle always better than the alternative?

In the words of Churchill, I say, never give up.

We are but weaklings, dwarfed by the martyrs who came before us.  We give in to little temptations where they held fast to the point of death.  Yet, though we can only hold fast in little ways, we can do so indefinitely, because it simply beats the alternative.  No matter how strong the drive to do that which God has condemned, we can and must always resist, because the alternative is absolutely unacceptable.  No one is granted a vacation from morality.  Personal preference isn’t worth crap.  You don’t stop fighting, and you never give up.  You work that lifestyle until the right thing becomes a habit.

When put to the test, you hold to righteousness even if it kills you, because the alternative is unacceptable.  Sometimes, surrender is just not an option.  Excuses won’t break your fall like the ground will.

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