The 4-Way Stop Sign

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stop signAlmost into the office this morning, I came to a familiar corner with a 4-way stop sign. I will premise this story by saying that I’ve always thought – and often commented – that 4-way stop signs are a bigger hazard than they are worth. This morning’s incident only reinforced that conviction for me.

The stop this morning started without incident. The cars in front of me rolled forward and stopped, as did the cars at the other three points of the intersection. And then in sequence, each driver took his turn. It was all perfectly timed and expertly maneuvered. But soon the exact time of arrival and departure was thrown out of sequence when one of the cars arrived just a little later than the others. The driver looked left and looked right. No one moved. So the driver proceeded to make his left turn. At the exact moment he took his action, a large pickup truck to the left also decided it was time to move straight through the intersection.

Gasp! Whew. Accident avoided. But what came next was perhaps more shaking to me than a collision would have been.

The driver in the faded red pickup truck laid on his horn as if he were announcing a grave emergency. And then, in one quick swoop, thrust his middle finger up in the air at his fellow driver. Separated by closed windows in different cars, I obviously couldn’t hear the actual sound indicated by his moving mouth, but as clearly as I now hear the radio in my office, I heard an abrasive “efff you” roll from his tongue.

I wonder who that driver was. I wonder if he was already having a rough morning, or, for that matter, a rough life. I wonder if he’s ever taken a turn that wasn’t his. My guess is that he has.

And I wonder if the other driver was as offended as I was. My guess is that she was not; that she just continued on her way. Maybe during the course of her day, she stopped to comment about how rude that pickup driver was to her. Maybe she didn’t think about it at all.

All of this morning’s events led me think about the turns I have taken in life: a turn to be happy, a turn to be sad. I’ve taken a turn to celebrate and a turn to mourn. I have had my turn in the spotlight and I have spent time in the dark, feeling less than wonderful about myself.  I believe that people have given up their turn for me from time to time and I know that I have also volunteered to go last for someone else’s benefit.

But I’m left wondering about that middle finger. And every day when I turn that corner, I will wonder if having the right of way is worth that kind of compromise to character. If we have to insult another to take our turn, might it just warrant a second of pause to ask “Who’s turn is it anyway?”


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