When I passed my driving test – at the third attempt – I didn’t feel ready to face sitting behind the wheel without an instructor to grab the controls should my confidence fail.
It was years before the ‘P’ plates were introduced, and, with necessity being the proverbial mother of invention, I made two white cardboard triangles and marked them with ‘Just passed!’ in huge red letters. Covered in sticky-backed-plastic and protected against the elements, they remained strapped to the front and back of my car.
On the whole, other drivers reacted positively. Some beeped to congratulate my success (I hope). All kept a safe distance. After some time, though feeling much braver, I still wasn’t ready to drive on my own without a prop. And so, the more truthful tag of ‘New driver’ appeared on my car.
More time ticked by. If I wanted my driving to progress or mature, I needed to remove the protective warning signs and to enter the real driving world without my homemade safety net. The immediate difference was pretty scary as I encountered impatience, tailgating, aggression and the senseless antics of those miscreants who, intent on proving their ‘superior’ driving prowess, terrify the living daylights out of other road users.
I felt very tempted to invent – and I’ve not yet ruled it out – some more elaborate, electric signs which could be operated from inside my car to warn other drivers that ‘I’m lost’ (as I often am) or tell them to ‘Back off’ when they are driving too close to me for comfort .
On Palm Sunday a few years ago, I placed the palm cross on my windscreen. I figured that I would keep it there just for Holy Week, but it is still in situ. Unexpectedly, having the cross permanently in view makes my own driving more disciplined and courteous. It is difficult to refuse to give way to a fellow motorist or prevent them from slipping in front of you in a queue, with the cross in your full view – and theirs.
If pushed, most drivers would confess to their devious moments behind the wheel. Have you never taken a short cut of questionable safety or legality? In log-jammed traffic when you can neither go forward nor reverse, have you never felt frustrated and tired, and tempted to take foolish risks?
Frayed tempers can easily become more ragged as the challenges seem to pile on top of each other: red lights, road works, level crossings, cyclists and pedestrians taking unnecessary risks . . . but the symbol of the cross demands a very basic level of good behaviour.
When my own car was recently the paying guest of the local garage, I realised that, behind the wheel of a borrowed car and without the palm cross, my driving and my patience both fell below their usual standard. Signs play an important part in all our lives: directing, guiding, reminding or warning us, giving us clues about something that we wouldn’t otherwise have been aware of, or, simply, that we have stopped noticing.
A few weeks ago I saw a youth make the sign of the cross prior to having a cup of tea and a sandwich in a crowded cafe. In front of many others, he witnessed to his belief that what he was about to consume came from God’s goodness. The cross is a powerful reminder of God’s love. Could making the sign of the cross before we eat and drink – the Grace before meals – be brought back into practice and widely cultivated in our society? Through this public declaration of faith, this simple sign would bring Jesus into our streets, restaurants, cafes, workplace and homes.
Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my Heavenly Father. (Matthew 10: 32)