Things You Thought Were True

For over thirty years, the man believed the lie.  Thirty years.

It was a small lie.  Perhaps it wasn’t even meant as an untruth.  Perhaps, the teacher who said the words assumed they were true.  It doesn’t matter.

The man believed the lie.

It all started the spring semester of his sophomore year in high school.  Fifteen years old was the age at which a kid could start on the road to independence, the age at which emancipation was finally within his grasp.  He was certain that all he needed was a driver’s license to achieve the goal.

It didn’t matter that he had no car; that gulf would be bridged when he got to it.  First, the little plastic card with his picture had to be in his grasp.  Minor details could be attended to in due time.

Driver’s education was the pathway he chose to achieve independence.  Friends would admire him, family members would count on him, girls would line up to be his date for an evening.  What could be disappointing about that?

Plenty, it turned out.  Let’s just say that the lectures, the scare films (remember “Death on the Highway”?), the hours spent in the driving simulator, were all endured without enjoyment.  It didn’t matter.  He was going to be driving soon enough.

The day finally arrived.  Two disappointed teenagers piled into the back seat of the specially marked sedan and one of them slid triumphantly under the steering wheel.  The instructor sat in the front passenger seat, with brake pedal securely under a heavy foot.  He would use it too!

Are you still waiting for the lie?  Bear with me just a moment more.  We’ll get there.

The young lady who was first in the driver’s seat was self assured.  She had aced the practice exams, had even scored well on the simulator.  She knew this was going to be a triumph, and she would show up the boys in the back seat.

It didn’t work out quite like that.  Time and time again, the instructor’s foot hit the brake pedal and brought the car to a halt, as he barked out instructions.

“Hands at 10 and 2!”

“Watch your mirrors!”

“Signal before you turn!  Don’t turn so fast! You’ll have us in the ditch!”

Then it happened.  The young lady was driving down a straight stretch of road, seemingly doing quite nicely, when his voice, this time more strained than at any other time in the lesson, was heard again.

“You’re going over the speed limit!  And, wouldn’t you know it?  There’s a cop over there!”

Sure enough, the police cruiser was parked at the side of the road.  The officer had the familiar radar gun in hand, pointed at approaching traffic.  That happened to be the learner’s car.

It was the first crisis that afternoon at which the instructor didn’t slam on the brakes.

It didn’t matter, because the young lady did it herself.  The boys in the backseat weren’t wearing seat belts and were thrown against the backs of the front seat; the braking motion was that strong.

“Just drive!”  Another first.  This time the instructor had shouted.

His shout had the desired effect.  The poor girl took her foot off the brake and stomped on the accelerator, zooming up past the posted limit almost instantly.  This time, the exasperated instructor applied his foot to the brake, slowing the car back down to the desired speed.

About that time, they passed the parked police car and the unhappy man in the passenger seat of the vehicle shrugged and threw up his hands in resignation.  The officer smiled sympathetically and waved the car on by.  A couple of blocks later the girl, clearly shaken and visibly trembling, pulled to the curb and asked to be relieved at the wheel.

As the car filled with young wanna-be drivers sat motionless, the instructor told the lie–the one which would live on for over thirty years.  Looking each of them in the eye in turn as he delivered his pseudo-wisdom, he delivered the fateful words.

“Don’t ever hit your brakes when you know you’re on police radar.  That locks the radar on you and, even if you’re in a crowd of cars, you’ll be certain to get picked out as the perpetrator.  Never hit your brakes near a speed-trap!”

For thirty years, the boy followed that advice.

Thirty years, he sped along highways, noticing the Christmas tree of lights that resulted from the spotting of a patrolman up ahead.  Thirty years, he smugly refused to tap his brakes, opting instead to coast down to a speed which wouldn’t attract attention.

Every time he saw someone else get pulled over, he nodded his foolish head and sanctimoniously repeated the lie.

“Never hit your brakes near a speed-trap.”

Thirty years.  A lie that lived for thirty years, determining his actions, his responses.

Photo: Scott Davidson

Until that day, when he and his Lovely Lady were speeding home from a rehearsal one evening.  It was dusk, and he didn’t see the State Trooper sitting there immediately.  He did notice the brake lights ahead of him.  Smugly, he wondered aloud what those fools were doing and let his foot off the accelerator.

Smugly, he watched the trooper start his flashing lights atop the big white and blue Crown Victoria.  Smugly, he waited for the car to pass him and tag one of the drivers who had been foolish enough to hit his brakes.

Glumly, he pulled to the shoulder of the highway when the lights stayed on his tail without going around.  He was confused.  He knew, just knew, that his instructor had told him the truth all those years ago.  How could this have happened?

After the officer had given him the speech and written him a warning (thank goodness, not a ticket!), he felt that he had to ask.

“I know that hitting a vehicle’s brakes locks the radar on that car.  Why did you stop me?  I didn’t hit my brakes.”

It was the trooper’s turn to be confused.  But, only for a moment.  Suddenly, he just shook his head and laughing uproariously, turned and walked back to his car.

It was a lie.  A lie.

Thirty years he had known the truth, only to find that it was a lie.

I wonder, how many other things we believe to be true are lies?  Lies told to us for various reasons, but all resulting in the same thing.

We believe a lie.

We act on that lie.

We repeat the lie, thinking we are telling the truth.

It changes who we are, changes the people around us, even causes people to shift course because they trust us to tell the truth.

I’m not talking about insignificant untruths, like not braking for a speed trap.

I’m talking about important things.

You’re no good and will never amount to anything.

Nobody loves fat people.

You’re so dumb!

If you’re good, you’ll go to heaven.

God couldn’t love someone as evil as me.

I’m not going to burden you with all the lies I have tumbling around in my head.  There are many.  Some were planted decades ago; some have sprouted up quite recently.

Maybe you have a few echoing in your ears, too.

Lies kill.  Lies cripple.  Lies destroy.

I wonder what else I think I know that is false.  Perhaps it’s time for a little fact-checking.  I may even tell you, in the days to come, about a lie or two I’ve accepted as truth.

It can’t hurt to shed a little light on the pathway ahead.

We’ll all travel more safely for it.

And, if that light turns out to be the brake lights of the cars ahead of you, perhaps you should find the brake pedal.

It might save us all some embarrassment.

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
(John 8:32 ~ NKJV)

“But he that sows lies in the end shall not lack of a harvest, and soon he may rest from toil indeed, while other reap and sow in his stead.”
(from The Simarillon ~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~ English author/educator ~ 1892-1973)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved. 

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