Pulled Over

Patrick Melson on July 3, 2014

Pulled Over Police sample pic

I was glad the policeman pulled me over.  It was 11:30 p.m., nearing the end of June 8th, which by my reckoning was 54 hours long.  We have been moving, so after church in the morning we drove the 40 minutes back to the old house, running up and down the stairs, moving furniture, vacuuming, packing boxes, cleaning and scrubbing followed by scrubbing and cleaning, packing boxes, vacuuming, stairs, loading the van, driving 30 minutes to the new place, unloading the van by about 10:00 p.m., but by then, who cares?  I was returning to our new place after a Walmart run, getting eggs and a low-profile power strip, now pulled over.

Do you know how bright those lights are?  Have you ever heard of, this thing like, uh, the sun? And all that flashing and spinning and blue and yellow lights, which look quite pretty and Christmassy when you pass someone else pulled over.  Then the spot light, the one that says, “It is you this time, I see you, and I have a gun so don’t mess with me!”  Another driver passed, I think I heard him saying “Look at those pretty Christmas lights!”  In the distance I think I hear a siren, the coming of another squad of police cars, a SWAT unit with extra night-vision equipped snipers, a couple of ambulances just in case, and the entire Washington National Guard.  I’m envisioning a TV arrest, multiple police cars, several black SUVs with tinted windows, multiple spotlights, helicopters with more spotlights including a news copter, and a dozen officers with guns drawn, sternly demanding me by name to get out of the car.

And the policeman waits in his car, and waits, and waits some more, and then waits a bit longer.  Though I drive a 15 year-old white minivan with no hubcaps, he is all business, I respect that, he is only about his best duty, checking my license plate, to see who I am, if the car is stolen, was used in a crime, or formerly belonged to a drug runner.  He is inspecting the car, is it clean, modified, what kind of stickers, symbols, and identifying marks are there, any sign of criminal behavior, any thing unusual?  As the spotlight burns the back of my head, He notes my hair color, estimates my height, and checks it against my DMV records.  He looks to see if there is anyone else in the car besides me and a few dozen eggs.  The light is so bright he can look into my closed wallet and see that I’m a card-carrying member of the AARP.  And though I am sweating, I mean sitting, he knows my shoe size and that my laces are a bit loose.

A year later he walks to my door and with another light in my face asks for my license, registration, and proof of insurance, not amused at all that he has to talk to me.  At first I think he is not amused because the year long waiting made him miss another child’s birthday, but my better senses tell me he is just doing his job well, just asserting his authority with the million candle-power spotlight and his commanding voice AND HIS GUN, letting me know he was in charge.  I’m sure he saw my cowering and was certain I would be no trouble, now we both could be at ease, except for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I was glad he pulled me over, I was glad he was doing his job, though I would have enjoyed it better if he was doing it with someone else.  I do appreciate the police, and respect their authority, and they do an excellent job at maintaining the infrastructure of our society.  Their mere presence raises the heartbeat and causes law-abiding citizens to forget if they signaled for that last lane change, closed their front door, or put the toothpaste cap back on the toothpaste.  He asked for my license, registration, and proof of insurance, normal stuff, except my insurance, he pointed out, expired the next day.  WHAT?  Did he say the next day, as in tomorrow, the day after today?  I do remember vaguely some email reminder coming from Flo at Progressive, while we were packing to move, while in-between our monthly paycheck we receive as missionaries…I remember thinking at the time this will have to wait until we get paid because we can’t afford to pay for 6 months at a time…I remember thinking I won’t forget about this… “Tomorrow,” said the officer, “the next day, the day after today you will have to get this renewed.”  “Thanks officer, I will” and I was THANKFUL for this fortunate reminder about our car insurance, I have never driven without insurance before and I still had time to get insurance before driving tomorrow.

“Do you know why I pulled you over?” asked the officer.  I was drawing a blank, wondering if had blown through a couple of stop signs in the dark, trying to find our new place in a new small town with new small-town back roads.  I couldn’t think of anything I had done nor could I remember if I closed the front door or put the cap on the toothpaste.  “You didn’t signal for your last two left turns, is there a reason you didn’t signal?”  I was still wondering about the toothpaste.  “Uh, no,” I said knowing I regularly signal even when no one is around, “I am new to the area and trying to find my way back to our house.”

“Where do you live?”  I gave him the address, he asked more questions and continued to use his flashlight and observation skills to see if I was making up a story.  I know I had done nothing wrong, but I did not know where this was going to end, since I couldn’t explain the cap on the toothpaste or my last two left turns.  “Does your turn signal work?” he asked. “Yes,” I said turning it on, “but it started making this noise today, like it was blinking twice as fast as normal,” and hearing the noise the officer said “That noise is an indicator that your turn signal bulb burned out or is malfunctioning.” “Really? I didn’t know that, I was wondering why it was making all that noise.”  It was quite irritating and in all our moving I just didn’t have time to look at it yet.  Stopped at a stoplight earlier in the day, I remember talking with my daughter Abi how noisy and annoying it was and turning off the signal until the light turned green. “I’m letting you off with a warning.  You will have to get that signal fixed, and if you ever hear that noise again you need to take care of it sooner.”  “I will, officer, Thank you.”

Having done his duty he turned back to his car, the helicopters and SWAT teams pulled away, the final spotlight was turned off and I was left in the darkness 4 blocks from home.  I was counting how many left turns there were, and wondering if I could make it home before my insurance expired, and if the cap was on the toothpaste?

As a follower of Christ I have a healthy respect for God-ordained authorities.  Such passages as Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-14, and Matthew 22:15-22 teach that the civil authorities are to be obeyed and submitted to, that God has placed them in authority and that they are “God’s servants to do  you good (Rom 13:4).”  We should submit not only to avoid punishment but for conscience sake.  While my kindly officer could have punished, he was a genuine servant of goodness and grace, and I want to thank him not for letting me off the hook, but for doing his job well.  I don’t think police get the honor they deserve, as doers of good, ambassadors of peace and safety, and as educators.  They are no threat to law-abiding citizens.

So I say “Thank you officer, for doing your job!”  Having lived overseas for years, I appreciate the excellence and thoroughness you bring to your work.  Thank you for teaching me a few things; that an overlooked car insurance payment needed to be taken care of, that a rapidly blinking turn signal means a bulb needs replacing, that I should keep on signaling even when no one is around.  I am thankful that you were used of God in my life for these things, and thankful you make the streets a safer place for us all.  I would like to tell you how wonderful God is to have brought you into my life tonight, and what other wonderful things He has done.  I welcome the chance to thank you in person, like, over a cup of coffee, without the Christmas lights.