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Excitement, joy, happiness….that comes first, when a person first starts thinking of learning to drive. Then comes….anxiety, tension, stress. It isn’t particularly easy. It demands attention, precision, focus. And even once you’ve become accustomed to it, and at ease with it….the first time you make a mistake, the rapid heartbeat and increased perspiration come back with a vengeance.
I had the privilege of participating in the driver’s education of my youngest brother and all three of my children. All of them were interesting in their own way. Elias was perhaps most intense about the whole thing. He is a perfectionist by nature, and it is difficult for a perfectionist to happily master such skills.
On the day in question, Elias then a high school student, was driving us to school, where he was to be dropped off with his siblings, whose hypercritical presence was terribly anxiety provoking for him.
One of the lessons we’d never thought about, was what to do in the event you encountered carrion. That is, an animal lying in the road that had been previously hit by a car. Now there’s not much to be said about that. Sad, true, but still not much to be said. Personally, I try not to run over them again, but I know that it wouldn’t make any difference to the dearly departed.
So Elias was driving us all to school in my car. It was a narrow road…two lanes, with traffic in both directions. As we ambled along, we came upon the remains of a feline. For some reason, I just expected that he would gently angle his way around the animal, for that is what I would have done. I observed him, and the struggle he was experiencing. A thousand questions ran across his brow, all at once. How to avoid the animal without driving off the road??? How to miss him, with driving into oncoming cars???? He began to move to the side but couldn’t risk getting too close to the edge of the road. He corrected and began to move back toward the center, but couldn’t risk getting to close to the lane with vehicles moving toward us. In the end, after all of these machinations, Elias’ maneuver appeared for all intents and purposes to be an intentional attempt to hit the cat. He was mortified! I was surprised. It had not been his intention at all. I tried to comfort him to little avail. The struggle he felt, undoubtedly exacerbated by inexperience, and despite my presence, was real. It didn’t help that his brother congratulated him for hitting the mark!
The gift of the Holy Spirit is what we celebrate this weekend. The “Paraclete”, sometimes called the “Advocate” or the “Helper” or the “Comforter”, needs to be understood as God’s Spirit coming alongside us in the midst of our struggles, not eliminating them, but accompanying us through them.