Pay Attention

It’s only eight miles out to Nine Mile Point. Apparently it must have been named for something other than its distance from my house. From my house, however, I can see the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station out the window any time I want, a plume of cloud by day and bright as fire by night, they keep it so lit.

Awhile back, I took my first drive out there to see it in person and up close. Actually, I was there to inquire about jobs, as the plant is one of the area’s largest employers.

Who knows what I was thinking:

“Hey, any open slots requiring a Master’s in Intercultural Studies? Or ordination?”

“Say, do any of your scientists require translation from Mandarin?”

Maybe I was hoping for something janitorial; I can’t quite recall. This was pretty near to the low point of our low Fall. And my mind was bursting to over-full. On the drive out I noted the slate sky and the stiff wind as trees bent noticeably even though bare. But mostly my mind slogged through all of our difficulties over and over again. They’d long since become what appeared to be beyond what we could bear.

Then my day changed.

I was less than a mile from my destination, and suddenly my windshield was filled with the side view of a pickup.

“What the…!? How does this idiot not see me? 

What in the world are you doing! Stop!

Yet he wasn’t stopping. Walzity-do-la-day, merry-as-you-please, here he came, right across my lane.

I jam on the brakes.

Veer left.

Screech towards him and brake harder, veering further left.

I’m going to hit him.

Broadside? No, perhaps I’ll eek out a front fender slam.

I’m still veering.

Whoa, could it be that I’ll possibly get so far left as to only clip his front bumper? Or, even so far that he’ll be hitting me…

Amazing how the mind can engage so many thoughts and possibilities during emergency.

Miraculously––though he never stops––I am (and it feels like finally) around him completely and out of the intersection, barreling towards the far shoulder of the cross road.

As I whip the wheel hand over hand like in those commercials warning such moves are for professional drivers on closed tracks, I continue to be flabbergasted by my friend now behind me:

What were you?! Didn’t your mother ever teach you to?

Directly in my path there’s a support wire for a utility pole, then some kind of brick sign or something, and I know utterly that I am on no closed track, even as my flapping hands sending the steering wheel in the other direction keep alive that niggle that tells me maybe, just maybe, however, I am that professional driver.

I’ve quit drifting left. Just miss the cable.

Fire hydrant! Shoot, now I’ve got to swerve way right. Still everything’s way too fast, and my choked-off questions continue vie for lip space with indignant spittle.

Finally it’s over.

I’m stopped along the gravel edge of the oncoming lane of my original road.

I whip my SUV into Park and whirl around to see the other guy. He’s on the same shoulder with his brake lights on. Obviously he must finally realize what he’s done.

I could have been killed, buddy

I could have killed YOU and had to live with it forever.

I put my hand on the door handle but don’t get out of the truck to go yell at him. I’m not even sure why. It wasn’t wisdom, as I wasn’t even emotionally regulated at the time. I wasn’t being chicken; I was outraged enough to be fearless. And it wasn’t laziness, as nothing can get me exercised like anger. Perhaps, more than anything, it was grace.

It was a matter of seconds driving down to the nuclear plant entrance, and I went through the gate with my heart still in my throat. I checked my rear-view mirror and imaginarily received the commiseration of the driver behind me, who must have witnessed the whole thing.

Dude, can you believe some of these drivers these days? I’m lucky to be in one piece

Hey, you’re lucky I was in front of you!

Then a different line of thinking:

Ooh, maybe God’s going to arrange things so this guy behind me is the head of some department here who has an open six-figure position for a guy with my exact (non)qualifications! And I’ll get the job based on his sympathy for this very incident

My mind sometimes. Tameless.


But my phantom future boss turned down a different side road, and I drove on in search of any building that looked like it had a door for the public. After circling a few parking lots, I saw a couple of guys walking to their cars carrying hard hats and plastic-wrapped uniforms.

New guys!

I drove over and put my window down to ask about applying.

“No idea, man. All jobs are posted on the website. Try that.”

Oh, right. 

He had just, effectively, reduced the experience of having my life put in jeopardy for the noble cause of providing for my family to one of having my life put in jeopardy in a futile exercise of stupidity.

“Uh, use the internet, dude.” I imagined him laughing at me.

Hey, in China we still do stuff in person, pal! I thought I could shout.

Instead, I pulled into a parking spot in order to immediately access the website while my hopeless subconscious conjectured possible bonus advantages for those savvy few who could access the company website from the epitome of proximity in the parking lot.

Alas, I got the same webpage I could have pulled up had I stayed home, and pretty much all of the postings were for people who had studied and worked with science and math and in nuclear facilities. Go figure. None were for people who were ordained, could masterfully order Sichuan meals, or had sat on a yak.

So I left, no less preoccupied than when I’d come.

But I was determined to not let it affect my driving, and I vowed to keep an eye out for crazies. I got back to the intersection of my incident and decided I’d take a picture of my tracks through the grass where life had flashed before my eyes. Instead I saw this:


Not only did I immediately come to the conclusion that severe mental preoccupation isn’t necessarily all that much safer than more forbidden forms of driving impairment, this harsh truth jolted me: I was the idiot. The danger. The fool who had almost gotten one of us killed.

Oh, dear God, thank you, thank you that I did not jump out of my truck and run over to his to give him a piece of my mind. 

(Obviously it’s apparent by now that I could have ill-afforded it, anyway, but that’s beside the point.)

And, of course, I thanked Him for sparing both of us.

That guy had done nothing. Other than have to watch me screeching toward him as I blew my own stop sign at 50mph.

I stayed pretty shaken up the rest of the day, to be frank, and as more days went by I grew rather philosophical about the thing. For there is no place in life where not watching the signs will pay off. Of course while driving, but I want to pay attention, period.

What do my kids need? What is happening right in front of me? To whom would God like to direct my attention just now? I want to pay attention to goodness and to beauty. To Jesus.

Right this minute. Life’s too important not to.