Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve Reindeer Games on I-95 - A Wake-Up Call

Last night, as I was driving home, I turned on WBZ radio, and was pleasantly surprised to hear the voice of my friend, the Rev. Bruce Wall of Dorchester. Bruce and veteran Boston broadcaster, Sarah-Ann Shaw, were among a group discussing the state of the Black Community in Boston at the end of 2006. Bruce made a remark that stood out in my mind. In talking about the highs and lows of the holiday season, he reminded the listeners that Christmas often brings a floodtide of memories - positive and negative - that can often lead people into depression and acts of despair during this season. He recounted his many years as Clerk Magistrate of Boston Juvenile Court and the increase in the number of cases that the court would inevitably see each holiday season. It took me only a few hours to see an example of the kind of behavior in extremis that Bruce had alluded to in his radio remarks.

Early this morning, I hit the road and headed to Portsmouth, New Hampshire to join my son, Scott, for a Christmas Eve breakfast. Just as dawn was breaking, I was rolling merrily along on I-95 in Byfield - only a few miles per hour over the posted speed limit - when I was startled by two vehicles roaring past me in the right hand lane. The lead vehicle was a pick-up truck that appeared to have many hundreds of thousands of miles on it. In hot pursuit was a Massachusetts State Police cruiser - flashing blue lights emblazoning the rosy-fingered sky. That stretch of the interstate is very straight - offering sightlines for several miles ahead. So, I was able to watch in wonder as the driver of the pick-up truck not only failed to pull over, but accelerated and tried to out-run the cruiser. Even though their speed seemed to be approaching 100 miles an hour, I was able to observe them in the distance passing the other bemused holiday travellers who weree heading north. The chase continued across the state border and to the Hampton Toll Plaza, where the first cruiser had now been joined by a growing parade of law enforcement vehicles from several jurisdictions. As I neared the town line that separates North Hampton from Greenland, I could see that the police had formed a road block up ahead. The traffic slowed to a crawl. All of a sudden, my attention was arrested by the sight of two police vehicles racing across the fairways of the golf course that abuts the highway. I could not figure out at first what they were doing, until I realized that they were trying to intercept the truck. The driver, sensing that he would not be able to make it past the roadblock, had veered off the highway, vaulted over the ditch that borders the road, and was heading across the golf course for the woods to the east. I continued driving north, and as the scene faded away behind me, I saw six cruisers convergng on the fugitive Ford. I did not get to see the denouement of the drama, but I am certain that it contained little holiday cheer - either for the law breaker or for the enforcers.

As I drove towards my rendez-vous with my son, I pondered what must have been going through the mind of the driver of the pick-up as he jeopardized his holiday, his freedom and his life to try to evade the police and avoid being stopped for what I assume would have been a minor speeding violation. What foul demons inside his head were driving him to go on this bizarre quixotic romp across the fairways? Was he one of the people that Bruce Wall had talked about last night? Was he one whose memories of Christmases past caused him to become unhinged? I will probably never know, but I will continue to wonder.

At the risk over over-moralizing this morning's signal event, I will be more aware for the rest of this day and tomorrow of strangers I meet - at the mall, at the airport, on the street, at a restaurant. I will be on the alert for signs of someone who may be teetering on the edge of despair, and for whom a warm smile or a sincere Christmas greeting could make a small contribution towards making his or her holiday a more pleasant one. In fact, This morning's strange encounter has already helped me to put this day in perspective. I assume that I am like most urban dwellers who begin to relegate the frequent requests for "spare change" to the category of pesky background noise. I wrestle with keeping a balance between becoming too jaded on the one hand - ignoring all requests lest one become overwhelmed, and giving a small amount to each mendicant, on the other hand. This morning, shortly after arriving in Boston following my breakfast with my son, I encountered a homeless person I see several times each week. His routine is always the same. He looks at me plaintively, and blurts out a single syllable: "Hungry!" I often give him some change to help him along his way. This morning I was pleased to give him a bit more to ensure that he could buy himself a hearty breakfast. I wished him God's blessing and a Merry Christmas. I am not sure it would have dawned on me to make that gesture without this morning's wake-up call of observing the police chasing an errant driver whose life was clearly out of control and heading for the breakdown lane.

God bless us, everyone!


No comments: