It was quite fortuitous that on Wednesday I became a buddhist. St.
Paul got his on the road to Damascus; I saw the light on the road to
Lake Oswego. One minute I'm driving on 217, a tense, alert twist of
muscle; the next, I'm accepting, letting go. The previous me would
have killed on Wednesday evening, deeming it a mercy, but no, instead I
witnessed every extraordinary slow moment as it passed, three hours of
near-bliss, brought to me by a nurse and someone who wasn't quite a
Some background: the tale began, as many do, with my wife. Because daughter number one qualified for Nationals, we will spend much time this summer on the road, going to Highland Dance competitions here and in Canada. Thus daughter number two was limited in her choices of weeks to take Driver's Ed. The penalty for missing a single session of this class is having to write an accident report. So important is the content, the penalty for missing two sessions is failure.
Laura found that a class in the correct two weeks was being offered by Lake Oswego school district. This is a twenty minute drive away, half an hour in traffic. We enrolled Julia. On Monday she went to the first class, in which she learned that no one, ever, should hold a steering wheel at ten and two; three and nine is now the correct answer, or lower yet, to avoid damage to thumbs should the air bag deploy. She also learned that the book Emily used--you remember the one about no-zones and such--is no longer any good. Thirdly, she returned with the news that a parental session is mandatory. Laura was too busy with work, so yesterday evening, back down 217 Julia and I went.
The auditorium in Lake Oswego middle school has a ceiling--I assure you I know every inch of it well now--that reminds one of those things they used to put in ranch houses out West in the nineteen sixties. A kind of upside down bubbly, ruffled look, achieved with asbestos, which then slowly and over time, rains down particles that get into the lungs of the unsuspecting folk below. We had a choice of sitting for three hours at a school lunch table, or sitting in one of those plastic chairs that you rent for a dollar apiece at party stores. But we were promised cold water at half time, and cookies.
The introduction was brief because, the person doing the introduction said, there was so much ground to cover. So quickly up to the microphone stepped a lady who undid one thing said in the introduction. She was not, in fact a "counselor," she said, and should have added, "in fact I have no qualifications at all, beyond having had a son injured in a car accident." Her opening question was, "Where should you hold your hands on the wheel? Anyone? Anyone?" For an hour and a half she gave us her views on driving, the choicest among which views were: that all drivers in the world should respect a ten pm curfew, that drivers should never wear large coats because one person in a crash once slipped out of her coat and under the seat belt, that anyone who drinks before the age of twenty one damages the brain and may never be able to make adult decisions. She explained that people who understand her version of polite behavior make excellent drivers and that a child who doesn't clean his room is not ready to drive. Parents, she thought, should have written contracts with their children so that expectations are clear. Her son was crashed into by an undocumented person who has returned to Honduras.
The rest was mostly about crashes--it's wrong to call them accidents when they're really crashes--except for the part about how responsible people obey laws even when no one's watching. This, just as I was about to suggest to Julia that we fill out the form that proves we had attended...and nip out the back door at half time.
Part two was a trauma nurse on the subject of...crashes. She had not been present for part one, so she began by explaining that we should not call crashes, "accidents." And then she explained about air bags and thumbs all over again. And then she told the very same stories the first speaker had told, even down to the detail of a police officer knocking on someone's door and the mother saying, "He's dead, isn't he?"
Had I not been converted to buddhism, there would have probably been carnage. Instead, at nine pm, we all applauded, raced out the door, started our engines and did wheelies in the parking lot.
David Ritchie, Portland, Oregon
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