Emily Dicksinson's lesson for rude drivers

Posted: Aug 04, 2000 12:00 AM
One of the perks of being a work-at-home mom is not having to drive to the office. The only keys I need are attached to a keyboard. The only gas I worry about is my baby's. So, it is with detached bemusement -- and sadness -- that I read in the newspapers about mad-as-hell motorists who race across the nation's highways and byways. Here in the Beltway, these self-important menaces on wheels won't even stop for death. A recent Washington Post story described how area commuters are directing their rage at funeral processions. "Once, motorists would pull aside and permit funerals to pass," the article said. "Now, drivers regularly cut them off at intersections rather than allow them to continue through red lights and weave in and out of processions instead of pausing, say funeral directors and police. Although motorists once got out of their cars as a solemn gesture of respect, funerals are now often accompanied by honking, cursing and gestures of a most vile kind." Funeral directors told the Post reporter that this disturbing trend has surged over the last decade in larger metropolitan areas, despite the use of hearses, headlights and placards to signal drivers to slow down. One pastor who moved from Nashville, Tenn., to a D.C. suburb of Virginia recounted a frightening near-accident during his first funeral procession in the region. "There's a lack of civility, and people are selfish and determined to have their way when they want it," the Rev. Mike Tune said. Police escorts are routinely ignored -- and often become targets of impatient drivers. Officer Mike Nicholson, of the Fairfax, Va., motorcycle squad, told the Post: "This is a busy town, and people are on their own agenda. People are always in a hurry, and just can't stand to wait for two minutes." Hurry, hurry, hurry. Is the next appointment, or deadline, or board meeting, or cocktail party so utterly important that you'd mow down mourners to get there? There's more than a mere lack of civility at work among the movers and shakers who push others aside to live life in the shoulder lane. The problem is a lack of humility. You are not indispensable. Your time is a gift, not an entitlement. Get over yourselves. Your next frenzied road trip could be your last, and the world will still spin without you. In one of her most famous poems, Emily Dickinson gives a rear-view mirror lesson that rude road-ragers should take to heart: Slow down. This life is a pit stop on a much longer journey. Dickinson's narrator in "Because I Could Not Stop For Death" speaks from centuries beyond the grave, and looks back peacefully at the stages of her life: Because I could not stop for Death -- He kindly stopped for me -- The Carriage held but just Ourselves -- And Immortality. We slowly drove -- He knew no haste And I had put away My labor and my leisure too, For His Civility -- We passed the School, where Children strove At Recess -- in the Ring -- We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain -- We passed the Setting Sun -- Or rather -- He passed Us -- The Dews drew quivering and chill -- For only Gossamer, my Gown -- My Tippet -- only Tulle -- We paused before a House that seemed A Swelling of the Ground -- The Roof was scarcely visible -- The Cornice -- in the Ground -- Since then -- 'tis Centuries -- and yet Feels shorter than the Day I first surmised the Horses' Heads Were toward Eternity. I realize nobody has time to read poetry anymore, much less savor it. So, here's the drive-by message for all you red-faced, foul-mouthed, fast-food-chomping, cell-phone-wielding, lane-weaving commuters out there: Learn to sit back and enjoy the ride here on Earth before death's carriage takes you away. There are no U-turns on time's eternal path.