The slow-motion way in which auto accidents seem to occur is amazing to me. It is as though time slows down, allowing those involved to take in everything going on around them. The sense of helplessness that comes with being involved an auto accident, even just as a bystander, is magnified by this slow-motion effect.
That was the feeling I had one day almost thirty years ago on a road outside Jonesboro, Arkansas. I had just started my day, and was headed out to see a customer when suddenly I saw a small car pull right out in front of oncoming traffic. The car in the oncoming lane of traffic t-boned the car that had pulled out. Suddenly, the car, and everything in it went from 60 miles per hour to zero.
It was a time before cell phones, so first responders took extra long to arrive at the scene. Mine was either the second or third car there. The victims of the accident were In varying states of injury. Lots of blood. Lots of loud crying from the three children who had been passengers in the car that had been cut off.
Oddly, those are not what stands out most in my mind when I reflect back on that day. The thing I remember most is seeing three head-shaped dents in the windshield of the oncoming car. One for dad. One for the oldest child. One for the middle child. That’s the memory that is emblazoned on my mind. The one that haunts me.
Since that day, I buckle-up EVERY time I’m in a car. It is such a habit that I even buckle up to drive across a parking lot. In our family, “make it click” is more than a catchy marketing slogan, it’s a prerequisite for driving.
Sunday afternoon, Shaun and I had been out together and stopped at a grocery store that is just down the street from our home. Once back in the car, after listening for that familiar “click,” I finally looked back and asked if he was buckled in. With a smile, he looked back at me and said “nope, I’ll be just fine like this.” Then he moved his eyes up to the handle in the car’s ceiling above the door. “It’s just across the street, won’t I be fine?”
Ah, one of those teachable moments of parenthood!
I began to respond, and then caught myself. You see, my first reaction was to explain it in a way that would have been a cop-out. I almost referred to the amount of trouble I would be in if Amanda found out I had let him ride unbuckled.
While it is true that the fear of getting caught can be a deterrent to wrong behavior, it does nothing to build integrity. Rather, it can feed into a spirit of rebellion. Promoting the notion that getting away with wrong behavior somehow validates it.
Man an I glad I caught myself. That response would definitely have sent the wrong message. It would have reflected the old way of life, life in active addiction, when “getting away with it” was all that mattered to me.
Instead, I caught myself short and explained the importance of wearing his seatbelt. I explained that it’s the law. That it is there to protect him from harm. I explained how I would feel if he were injured in an accident. The message was clear, we wear seatbelts because it’s the right thing to do, and we aspire to do the right thing every time.
In short, that brief car ride home provided me with the opportunity to teach Shaun about integrity. In a family where both parents are in recovery, integrity is never optional. It cannot be. Doing the right thing for the right reason keeps Amanda and me on track. It protects us from falling into old behaviors that could threaten not only our individual recovery, but our family as a whole.
Though we cannot know each other’s motives for certain behaviors, we can know our own. We can also share these motives with Shaun so he learns why doing the right thing is so important.
I don’t want Shaun to be motivated by fear any more than I want fear to be a motivator in my life. Rather, I want a life that is motivated by integrity for us both.
Business travel used to present me with opportunities to to do all sorts of things that made me fearful. For the longest time, I avoided those things because of my fear of being caught. Eventually, fear fell away. The potential of getting caught no longer motivated my actions. Loss of fear opened the door to all sorts of things I was sure I would never do. Unfaithfulness. Drug abuse. Lies and descriptions.
Integrity was lost. Nowhere to be found in my life or behaviors. I was lost too.
That is why practicing the spiritual principles of Narcotics Anonymous in all my affairs is so important to me. Could I “get away” with bad behavior while traveling? Probably, yes. At least for a while. An affair maybe. Or some wine with dinner? Maybe even a little bit of meth… who would know? Nobody knows me here. No one needs to know.
If fear of getting caught were still my motivation today, I’d be a relapse just waiting to happen.
I thank God that I don’t live that way today. Today I live a life that is directed by integrity. The funny thing is that the longer I practice integrity, the easier it becomes. The reasons for doing what is right greatly outweigh any temptation to do what’s wrong.
So, today I will focus on integrity. I’ll continue to do the next right thing for the right reason. I’ll also make sure Shaun understands why I do what I do. I have been given the privilege of building into his life, and I don’t want to squander it.
Buckle up son, and…
Have a remarkable day!