Three weeks ago, I stood in front of a judge with some paperwork in hand. This was the proof I needed to show the judge that I had paid my due to society and needed to be relieved of my six-month probation. In less than two minutes, I was granted just that – a reprieve. Or was it really a reprieve? I look back at the incident that brought me to this very point in my life – an about-to-be-ex-parolee :-D.
It was the last week in April and I was on my way back home just before midnight, after a long, protracted flight from Chicago. I had retrieved my car from the airport parking lot and was making my home slowly. About two miles from my house, I felt a conviction in my spirit to not take the route I was used to but I disobeyed. On getting to an intersection, I did not notice that the traffic light had been replaced by those permanent red flashing lights due to the ongoing construction. I relied on my programmed reptilian pre-frontal cortex and ran the flashing red light. It did not even occur to me what I had done until the flashing red and blue light behind me woke me from my reverie. I was stopped by a cop.
Once he made his way to my window side, he asked me the fundamental question: “do you know why I pulled you over?” To which I had no answer because as of then, I really did not know why. He then went on to provide me with the reason. In fairness to me, the lights were recently installed (a fact that was verified by the officer) but that was no reason for me to have not come to a complete stop. After cards were exchanged (mostly one-sided – my driving license and proof of insurance), I was let go with a traffic fine of $250. My crime was a flashing red light violation caused by a momentary lapse in judgment and disobedience to my spirit-man.
And then the nightmares began. First, I replayed the scene over and over again in my head and beat myself over it – which was certainly not fun. Then, I let fear slowly creep in which metamorphosed to full-blown road anxiety that had me almost going into paralysis every time I saw a cop pass by. In the grand scheme of things, getting a moving violation should not be a big deal but I made it one. Which was compounded by the fact that I had to go in front of a judge to get permission to take defensive driving if I wanted the offense to not show on my records and affect my car insurance rates. This law was unique to the county in which I was pulled over.
My first court date was in May and I wore my lecture-best attire and was ready to flail myself in front of the judge to get what I needed. Years of watching law shows should probably come in handy, or I so I thought. On that hot day in May, I pleaded ‘no contest’ to the judge and asked for my special request to be allowed to do the defensive driving. Because I had no other infarctions within the past three years, I was granted this but it came with a condition – I was going to be on probation for six months and to appear in front of the judge during then with proof of defensive driving course completion.
Probation meant I could not get into any other trouble with the law. Specifically, I could not get another ticket, get into an at-fault crash, or violate any traffic laws. These restrictions are indeed the norm for those who abide by the law, but if you are already high on anxiety-fueled regret for already receiving a ticket, these restrictions make for a stressful situation. When the anxiety almost crippled me, I reached out to my small group and had them pray over me. With prayers also came confession, I had to be honest with myself that I had allowed my mistake to become a monster that was affecting every area of my life – especially my work as I began to second-guess and doubt everything.
And slowly, I came back to the place of strength. I put my experience in context, acknowledging that I should be lucky that all I got away with was a ticket and the probation. What I did by running that red light could have potentially led to the loss of human lives. And with that also came gratitude and contemplation, which eventually leads me to the crux of today’s story.
I think when we make mistakes, we ought to retrace our steps and make the needed retributions. What we should not do is let the shame of these mistakes hold us back and become the essence of our lives and work. If we focused less on ourselves and more on what is outside of us, we can definitely be grateful for what worse could have happened at the moment we erred.
So a week before Thanksgiving and a few words from the judge, I was let off my probation with my husband jokingly now referring to me as an ex-convict. And for this experience, I still remain grateful. While the judge pronounced me free, I still consider myself perpetually under probation because it is just the amount of “restriction” I need to remain grateful of what worse could have happened when I ran that red light.