One of my favorite things to do is drive. Whether I’m bopping around town or traveling the highway, it’s a great way to enjoy some alone time. I think I may be more myself behind the wheel than any other place. I sing loudly to the radio. I munch on fries and vigorously slurp the last sip from the bottom of my soda cup. I take off my shoes even if my socks have holes. And enthusiastically say out loud what I’m really thinking about incompetent drivers since no one can hear me. It’s quite liberating.
The only time I don’t enjoy driving is when it’s late and I’m tired. To that point, after a very long day I faced a three-hour drive. It was already 9 p.m. and I was exhausted. To help keep me alert, I played an audio book of “Little Women” and soon was enjoying Ms. Alcott’s world of Concord with the March sisters. For an hour I was entertained. Then, out of nowhere came an irresistible urge to nap. I struggled through for a while longer, but by 11 o’clock, my blinks were becoming extended and yawning turned habitual.
It was official: I had become a drowsy driver. I took all the recommended evasive measures. I turned on loud fast music and rolled down the window; I even sat up straight with both hands on the wheel, but all that did was make me uncomfortable and sleepy. I took an exit to get a cup of coffee and some snacks. Surely I could stay awake if I had caffeine and chocolate, but sleepiness was a formidable foe. Mile by mile I wrestled the urge to close my eyes and surrender to the overwhelming desire to slumber, until something caught my attention that reengaged my brain. The car in front of me was weaving back and forth in the lane. I decided my safest course of action was to get in front of the driver in the event of a crash. As I passed, I fully expected to see a drunk or a rowdy teen, but instead, I looked through the window and I saw myself. In the car was a driver sitting straight up in the seat, both hands on the wheel with the look of a person fighting to stay awake.
For five more miles he continued to weave from edge to edge until I decided for his own safety I should call him in for reckless driving. Just as I was about to dial, I saw my sleepy friend pull into a gas station and get off the road. Crisis averted.
I, on the other hand, was once again fighting the sand man call. With 25 more miles to go, every single tactic had failed to revive me — caffeine, chocolate, music, news, stories, fresh air. There was no scheme left to refresh me — or so I thought. It’s amazing how alert one can become at the sight of blue and red lights in a rearview mirror. Just five miles from home I was invited to pull off the road.
With a state trooper walking up to my window, all I could think was how good it felt to lean back and close my eyes.
“Ma’am,” the trooper began with a wary tone, “This car has been reported for reckless driving.”
The irony did not escape me. “Is there a problem?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. There is a big problem. I need sleep.”
After securing my documents and my semi-coherent explanation of where I had come from and where I was going, he disappeared. I could faintly hear my name being given over the police radio as I tried to catch a brief nap. Returning before I could move into REM sleep, I was given a warning and told to get home carefully. Wide awake finally, I did just that.
Whoever my anonymous snitch was, a person I now call friend, he did me a kindness by reporting me. His intervention surely spared me greater harm. While we may not often think of it, that really is the role of a friend — someone willing to correct when words or action become reckless. It takes grace to give a friend such honesty, but it takes greater grace to receive it.
“Let the godly strike me! It will be a kindness! If they correct me, it is soothing medicine. Don’t let me refuse it.” Psalm 141:5
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Proverbs 27:6
The secret to seeing even such necessary intervention as “kindness” is to focus on the heart of the friend, not the sting of the wound.
Kim Wier is an author and speaker, and hosts a weekly radio talk program on KSBJ in Houston.