Death Trap Highway

7 02 2009

They call it Death Trap Highway, and for good reason. It’s a long desert road in the middle of nowhere, connecting a small desert city with the nearest thriving coastal metropolis. On one side, there’s a dry mountain range, and on the other is an endless expanse of joshua trees and rocks. All kinds of things die out there, coyotes being the least of them. If your car runs fine everywhere else, it might still die out on that road. More importantly, though, it’s a common place for people to die. I remember that one night, years ago as a kid, when we arrived at the scene of a car accident, and my Dad tried valiantly to resuscitate a little girl. One car, loaded with kids, half of them dead, and another car with two dead adults just sat there, smoking. It was a futile effort, though. There was no reviving the kid. My Dad spent the next two days in bed. He didn’t come out for anything. What was the cause of the accident? The mother of the family, who was one of the drivers, said that she swerved to avoid an animal in the road. In all likelihood, she either fell asleep at the wheel or was a little intoxicated. Their funeral was not a solemn stoic one, the way white people do it, but a raging torrent of emotion, wailing and crying.

That funeral could have been ours. Was it nearly half a decade later? Yes, I suppose it was. We were on that same highway, now with a large billboard naming it “Death Trap Highway,” in memory of some other people who also managed to die there. My mom was driving, and she was clearly in her happy place. We passed a sign that said “Lane ends, merge left,” and she didn’t merge left. We passed over a couple of slanted arrows on the road, pointing left, and she kept driving straight ahead. I looked over at her, and she was staring straight ahead, but her mind was somewhere miles away.

“Um, Mom?” I said, “Are you going to change lanes?”

Up ahead, my Dad and I both saw the lane end quite abruptly at a pile of rocks. We were headed straight for it at the speed of seventy-five miles per hour. My mom didn’t even flinch. Very anxious, my Dad started pleading with her to change lanes. It was like watching a captive plead to his tormentors to stop whipping him. I saw reality dawn on my mom’s face, as she snapped out of her reverie. Rather than change lanes, though, she took her eyes completely off of the road and drilled my dad with an angry stare (for several seconds, mind you) and proceeded to scold him for his tone of voice.

“Look, Babe, I’m just trying to tell you to change lanes before we go off the road!” he pleaded.

He was looking at the road. She wasn’t. He began to get more anxious. I kept looking back and forth between the pile of rocks and them. My dad had a look of horror like I’ve never seen before, with his feet on the seat and his knees drawn up to his chest, he was biting his fingers and getting red in the face. She was giving him a lecture about how she didn’t appreciate being talked to like that.

Then, I think the thing that convinced me that we were about to die was when she turned her head back to the road, looking straight at the pile of rocks, expressionless, yet she looked like she was determined to stay in that lane just to show us who was boss. “I can’t believe it,” I thought, “She’s really going to do it. She’s really going to drive straight into the rocks.”

At the last possible moment, she began to get over. We missed the rock pile by a foot, went off the road and did about a hundred yards in the dirt, before making asphalt again. I won’t say what I was thinking after that, but it’s safe to say that my way of thinking was forever changed by it.

I wish I could say that it was an aberration in human nature, but it’s not. Every single one of us drives our own Death Trap Highway. It’s a dangerous life, and death is inevitable, but when someone tells us that we’ve made a mortal mistake, how often do we continue in the same path, refusing to change, sacrificing everything for the sake of our stubborn pride? And we even fail to protect our pride. Who can possibly respect a decision like that?! Instead of making an objective decision and steering safely away from harm, we scold the person who tries to warn us of it. We don’t like the angry way they told us (though, seldom is it really all that bad), or we pretend that they are wrong. We cast the blame on them. Then, we continue along the same path.

If a person is going to Hell, and I warn them of it, in all likelihood, they’ll cast me as an intolerant bigot. They’ll accuse me of being insecure and trying to comfort myself by winning others to my faith. Nothing could be further from the truth. We could be perfectly at ease, enjoying our salvation and watching you go to Hell. I mean, who wants to put up with verbal abuse from a bunch of angry heathens, when we can relax and take it easy? I’m okay; you’re going to Hell, but that doesn’t hurt me. I’ve lost count of the number of people who lambaste Christians who make even the barest attempt at sharing their faith.

And they call us the intolerant ones.

Look, it isn’t easy for someone to warn you of your sin. Truth be told, no one really wants to have to be the one to do it. Next time, when a Christian wants to share his faith with you, be polite and listen, whether you’re already a believer or not. We’re not doing it for ourselves. We’re doing it because we think you might be headed for trouble and we hate to see it happen to a nice person like you.

Truth be told, if I try to proselytize you, then it’s only because I like you. Just take the compliment, okay?