Imperfect Messengers | Sunday Oregonian

Originally published in the Sunday Oregonian, July 13, 2008.

I love our city’s bumper stickers. You can find everything from “My God Can Beat Up Your God” to my personal favorite, “I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure.” They provide a welcome diversion in rush-hour traffic.

Still, as much as I like bumper stickers, I am about the last person who should put one on her car. Why would I proclaim that “Bush is an Idiot” when the driver I am speeding around is probably wanting to call me the same thing?

Nonetheless, last month when Obama became the Democratic nominee, I decided that I would improve my driving for the greater good, when I drove at all, since we’re all supposed to be driving less anyway.

I proudly placed my Obama bumper sticker on my vehicle and promised myself that I would finally leave my house earlier and drive in an unhurried manner befitting the distinguished senator.

At first it was kind of fun. I went all-out to be the most considerate driver I could be. I drove the speed limit, and if others were in a hurry, I let them get ahead of me, giving them a wave and a smile. No longer did I view a yellow light as an opportunity to speed up and tear through an intersection, and my cell phone stayed in my purse. I was now an ambassador for Obama.

This personal transformation went on for about two weeks. I was pleased with myself and didn’t expect to relapse. Alas, that was not the case.

I was somewhere on the back roads outside of Estacada one sunny Thursday morning when it happened. I had made a wrong turn, which then put me behind schedule for the retreat I was attending, which, ironically, was supposed to teach me to be centered and at peace with the world.

As I struggled to keep my eyes on the road while looking at my map I caught sight of a vehicle behind me. The road had one of those double stripes in the middle so I assumed that no one was allowed to pass. Naturally I increased my speed even more in order not to frustrate the guy behind me. I figured that was what he wanted.

I was wrong. When I finally arrived at my destination, he pulled in behind me and got out of his truck.

“Didn’t you see me signal that I wanted to pass you?” he yelled.

He was red-faced and fuming, and at first I naively thought that we were signed up for the same event and that maybe he just needed this retreat even more than I did.

“I didn’t see any signal,” I said honestly. “I was too busy looking at these Mapquest directions.”

I waved the directions at him and took a few deep breaths while he began to recite the error of my ways. Somehow I managed to listen to him without getting defensive. After all, I figured he was most likely right. Why should I disagree? I certainly wasn’t up for the driver-of-the-year award.

He eventually calmed down, and by the time he was finished, I told him I was sorry. He told me he understood what a drag it is to be lost. I gave him a hug and we went our separate ways.

We never mentioned my Obama sticker. In fact, I had forgotten all about it in the intensity of the moment of being lost and then getting followed. But I wonder now about it. Would he have felt as angry toward me if my car had an “I Love My Golden Retriever” bumper sticker?

I questioned whether I had been right all along in keeping Obama’s name off my car because of my driving. But then I wondered if I was setting the bar too high for myself. Whenever we take a stand about anything from global warming to banning trans fats, do we have to be perfect messengers?

I’ve decided the answer is no, and this is especially true in politics. After all, Obama himself has told us on more than one occasion that he isn’t without flaws.

We can only do our best and, if we are able, look for common ground and maybe even exchange an embrace or two, whether we are big-city drivers with Obama stickers or a guy in a pickup from somewhere outside Estacada. We really are more alike than we realize.

Drive safely.

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