January 25, 2011 | Posted in: Philosophy
I’ve been a little under the weather the past couple of days and, true to form, I choose times like this to take on major projects around my home. This time happens to be the massive project of getting my library in order. With a couple of thousand books to organize, I’m now starting my third day and I’ve still got a long way to go! The good news is one particular book I came across inspired today’s story.
I’m a big believer in the saying, ‘The book you don’t read won’t help you’. This particular book has saved me a fortune and maybe even kept me from going to jail. No joke. The book? Random Acts of Kindness. I don’t know if you’ve ever read it but it’s very precious. Only takes a couple of hours to read cover to cover and has the ability to transform your life if you let it. Wiki describes the premise of the book this way:
A random act of kindness is a selfless act performed by a person or persons wishing to either assist or cheer up an individual. The phrase may have been coined by Anne Herbert, who claims to have written “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” on a place mat at a Sausalito restaurant in 1982 or 1983. Either spontaneous or planned in advance, random acts of kindness are encouraged by various communities
My first hand experience of this book started when I picked it up in 1993. And learning from Mary Kay Ash (in the decade prior) that if you don’t put something you’ve learned into practice within 24 hours of learning it, it’s as if you wasted the time spent getting the knowledge. Translated this means, use it NOW!, or lose it. On this particular day of using it or losing it, I ended up working especially late and I was running out of time.
As the story goes, I was driving home down the interstate highway at 11:30 PM when I happened to notice a highway patrol car in front of me. I found myself thinking, “I would love to let this officer know how much I appreciate him for all the things he’s done for me. He risks his life to be out here keeping the roads safe. He’s away from his family when he could be home sleeping in a warm bed with his wife. He has a dangerous job and I’m so grateful to him for his dedication. I wish there was a way I could get his attention. Maybe I could flash my headlights at him. Maybe I could pull up next to him, honk and wave him over to the shoulder. Maybe, maybe, maybe … but how can I do this without making a fool of myself? … or getting in big trouble? … or whatever?!! … because I really, really, really want this highway patrolman to know that he is appreciated and respected by me?!!!”
I keep at this thinking for quite a while, but, alas, I couldn’t find a reasonable way to get the job done, so I finally gave up on letting this particular officer be the recipient of my first official random of act of kindness. So … be careful what you ask for … you can only imagine how delighted I was when the patrol car slowed down, dropped to my right, pulled in behind me, and turned his lights on.
Here it is nearly midnight and I’m being pulled over, hip-hip-hooray!!! (For those who know the area, it’s the turn on the Superstition going into Tempe just before the Mill Avenue exit. I still pay homage every time I drive by!) Incredibly happy at my good fortune, as the officer made his way to my car, I reached over to the glove compartment to get my registration and then pulled out my wallet to get my driver’s license.
With me smiling from ear to ear, the officer got to my window and shined his light into my face while saying, “Good evening, ma’am. Do you have any idea why I pulled you over?” to which I responded, “No Officer, but I’m SO glad you did, truly I am!” to which [in a slightly surprised tone of voice due to my being overly chipper to see him] he said, “I pulled you over because you’ve been tail-gating me for the last three miles and tail-gaiting is a very dangerous thing to do.” to which I responded, “Forgive me, Officer! I normally don’t tail-gate but I read Random Acts of Kindness today and I was preoccupied because all I could think about was how much I wanted to pull you over and thank you for all the wonderful things you do for me and for others. I couldn’t figure out how to do it so I finally decided to give up on the idea, which is to say it’s probably why I was tail-gating you.”
At this point, I’d already handed him my registration and license and [as he read my information] without skipping a beat continued with, “I can’t believe my good fortune that you pulled me over and now that you have, thank you for risking your life for me on a daily basis and for keeping our roads safe. I so love and appreciate all the brave men and women of the Highway Patrol! I’m grateful for their families, too, for sharing you with us! I don’t mind that I’m getting pulled over for tail-gating because it’s given me the opportunity to say thank you. So thank you Officer for giving me the opportunity to tell you that I appreciate, respect and admire you!!! I don’t mind getting this ticket. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!”
I wish you could have been there. It only took a minute to say but it was one of the most delightfully sublime learning experiences of my life and years later, I’m still tickled to tell you the story. But the best part of the story isn’t what I’ve just relayed, it’s the officer’s reaction!
After my happy little speech, he looked at me and said, “Lady! I’ve heard it all! And this crock
absolutely positively beats anything I’ve ever heard!!” And with that, as well as with a simultaneous flick of his wrist, he literally threw my drivers license and registration back in through my window (I can still see them fluttering down into my lap as if in slow motion!), straightened his back ramrod straight, and while pointing down the road, yelled at me in an overly stern voice, “Get outta here!” As loud as he barked, part of me could still hear the note of disbelief [and genuine gratitude] in his voice.
As I put away my things away and while taking extra precaution getting back onto the highway, I was beyond happy. But it gets better!
The next thing I knew, the officer got back into his patrol car and as he pulled onto the highway behind me, he [briefly and for one instant] turned on his lights and flicked on his siren. And, as he passed me, he made eye contact, saluted me, and smiled as he sped off down the road. Little did I know that this random act of kindness on my part would have him leave behind nothing short of Two Angels that I’ve come to call my Backseat Angels of the Highway Patrol. Angels that are with me anytime I’m on the road.
I’ve traveled hundreds of thousands of miles in the 18 years since that night and I’ve tested them every which way to Sunday and, still, these Angels are always sitting in my back seat. I’m not kidding. Here’s proof.
Though I’m a good driver, I’ve been known to do things that are evidence that I’m not a perfect driver. I’ve been pulled over for excessive speed on long, lonely stretches of desert highway between Wickenburg and Wikieup (doing a 110 in a 70 mph zone is considered excessive by some, go figure) and though I was lectured and threatened to be taken to jail if I got caught doing it again, my Angel of the Highway Patrol didn’t give me a ticket. I did thank him for being my angel and I’ve never once driven 110 again (though it would be interesting to see if he’d keep his promise about hauling me off to jail!).
I once ran out of the house in a hurry and ended up getting pulled over for not having current tags on my plates, not having my drivers license on me, not updating my records after my move, speeding in a residential area and not wearing shoes while driving (yes, 5 separate things!). The officer looked at me and said, “Ma’am it’s Christmas [eve]. Please don’t do this again. Slow down. Get your records changed. Wear shoes. And have a Merry Christmas!” He smiled as I drove away and, yes, I (secretly) thanked him for being my Angel of the Highway Patrol’s Christmas Division.
Years ago I received a beautiful letter from the former head of the Highway Patrol, Chief Joe Albo. He told me that earlier in the day he’d witnessed me driving through the gore (that place between the white stripes leading onto and off the highway), and stated that he knew I was ‘probably in a rush to get to an important meeting, but please don’t do it again’. He told me that his officers use that space in order to do their [already dangerous] work and then reminded me that one of his officers had just been killed as a result of this type of bad driving habit. He told me that he would have given me a ticket had he been able to get through the traffic. Short of that, he felt the issue was important enough to warrant a personal letter. He concluded by thanking me, including his official photography and a couple of stickers with the Highway Patrols emblem. I cried. And, I learned that the Angels of the Highway Patrol have an Archangel and because of him I’ve never once driven through a gore again.
My list of these types of stories is very long including the fact that if I happen to be in the car with you and you get pulled over … I swear, you won’t get a ticket. Time and time again its been tested (my husband will vouch for this fact!). But I’ll conclude today’s story with my favorite story of all.
I got called in for jury duty and it happened to be a case involving a highway patrol officer. As they were sorting out the possible jurors, one of the questions was whether or not we had an opinion about law enforcement officers, highway patrolmen in particular, the DPS and ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation). Several hands went up including mine. Everyone got to speak and, to the letter, everyone said they were biased against the officers.
When the judge came to me, I told her, “Your honor I love the Highway Patrol and if selected I would most definitely be biased in favor of them.” Though she hadn’t asked the others why they opposed these law enforcement officers, for whatever reason, she asked me to explain why I felt this way, and, being the story teller that I am, I told her everything from reading Random Acts of Kindness to running headlong into the Angel I tailgated — flashlight, wrist flicking, lights, siren, salute, Chief Albo, my Back Seat Angels of the Highway Patrol and all. I concluded by nodding towards the officer and saying, “If I’m picked for this jury, there’s no way I’d be able to do anything but be on this officer’s side.” The judge, the officer, the attorneys, the defendant, the bailiff, and the remaining prospective jurors, all laughed, after which the judge pounded her gavel and said we’d take a short break. We were excused to the hall. About 30 minutes later the bailiff stuck his head out the door and told us a plea agreement had been reached and we were all dismissed (seems he winked at me and smiled when he said it). I’d like to think I had something to do with the decision to not go to trial. At the very least, I know I made the officer’s day.
Friends, speaking from experience, the book you won’t read won’t help you. The ones you do and especially the ones you take action on … could make all the difference in making ours a better world.
So go out there and hug the next officer you see. It just might insure your having a couple of Backseat Angels of the Highway Patrol (or Fire Department, or Army, or Navy, or Air Force or Marine Corp) of your own. Now if I could just find a couple of Angels of the Chicken Soup Patrol or the Library Book Patrol, I could get over this cold and put my library back together again … 🙂