In the summer of 1979, Mr. Reed taught me how to drive. More importantly, he taught me how to stay on the road.
In Farmland (a real town, not just a field of corn), we took driver’s training in the summer and teachers who traditionally taught math, science, and shop class risked their lives by teaching driver’s training to prepubescent boys and girls.
And so, every morning for a month in the summer, I would climb in the car with Mary Ashcraft, Marc Thornburg, and my gym teacher Mr. Reed. Two of our trio of newbies would sit in the back seat while the other automobile apprentice drove with Mr. Reed at their side. After an hour or so, we would switch and someone else would have their opportunity to terrify the passengers. The two neophytes in the back seat (and I suspect Mr. Reed, as well) would spend the hours praying that we didn’t die at the hands of the inexperienced driver behind the wheel. Looking back, I truly believe that nothing stood between us and Death except sheer blind luck and Mr. Reed’s passenger-side break peddle.
This truth was never more evident than the morning I was cruising down the gravel roads of central Indiana, enjoying the plume of dust roiling in my wake. Mr. Reed casually turned to me and asked me a simple and direct question in a calm tone, “Do you hear that noise, Curt?”
Making sure my hands were still at 10 and 2 and that both eyes remained on the road, I leaned in toward the dash and listened for a minute. The noise wasn’t coming from the engine; it wasn’t mechanical in nature. So, I listened more intently. And then I heard it. It was a rustling sound that seemed to be coming from the passenger side of the car as if it was in the door, or just outside the door, or even under the tires. It was loud and was getting louder the further I drove.
“I do hear it!” I exclaimed with pride. “What is it?” I asked with genuine curiosity.
Mr. Reed, in a composed and unperturbed reply, stated the obvious truth that my young driver’s mind could not comprehend, “Well, that’s the side ditch that you’re driving in. It’s scraping against the side and bottom of the car. You might want to get back on the road.”
I was driving 50 miles per hour along the back roads of Indiana…actually the back side ditches of Indiana, and had no awareness of the danger. I was completely ignorant of my plight. I was oblivious to the hazards in my driving. It took someone with experience to point out the error of my ways and guide me to the center of the lane.
Thanks to Mr. Reed, to this day I rarely drive in the ditch.
But how many times in my personal life have I veered off course, strayed off the path, found myself on the edge of the straight and narrow without even knowing it? How many times have I turned my life toward the margin of right and wrong, the border between safety and peril? The answer? Far too many times.
We could all use a calm voice in our life from time to time, guiding us back, reminding us of the warning signs, helping us hear the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) sounds that announce danger heading our way. How about you? Do you have a Mr. Reed in your life? Do you have someone who is willing to ride along through the ups and downs of this journey who can gently speak truth when you wander off course? Do you have someone who will point out the truth when you can’t see it yourself?
I’m certainly thankful for Mr. Reed. He taught me how to drive…and so much more.