Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The Bridge To Nowhere - a parable

How can we illustrate our tendency to become so caught in preserving our own interests that we forget about the responsibility that we have for others?
Late one rainy night, on an obscure and narrow stretch of backcountry road, there was a salesman making his way home from a lengthy and tedious business trip. He had been gone from his beloved family for nearly week, and was dearly looking forward to their sympathetic company after a very difficult meeting with his superiors at the annual District Conference. So, he naturally found himself thinking fondly of them as he guided his car through the dense canopy of trees that enshrouded the road, giving it an almost cavernous feel.
As he drove along, being warmed in his heart by the prospect of soon being at home, the rain began to come down in sheets that blanketed the road before him, making it quite difficult to see much beyond thirty or forty feet in front of the car. The increasing intensity of the storm aroused in him a heightened sense of mental vigilance, and for the moment all other thoughts were pushed out of his mind. He was definitely in a hurry to get home, but he wasn’t foolish enough to press his luck in circumstances like these. He had other people to think about, so why put them in jeopardy in order to arrive a few minutes earlier?

It was at about at this moment that suddenly, from the right hand side of the road, sprang a deer, leaping directly into his path about forty feet ahead. Thankfully, having slackened his rapid pace only moments before, he was able to avoid what had appeared, in the first instant, to be an inevitable collision. He just missed clipping the hindquarter of the deer as the anti-lock brakes he had purposefully paid extra for brought the car to a balanced halt. Naturally, the adrenaline was now rushing to his brain in torrents, and it took him about a minute to get calmed down enough to continue on his way. But almost immediately after he had depressed the accelerator and resumed his journey, he was greeted by an even more horrific and paralyzing surprise. His now supremely serendipitous encounter with the deer had stopped him just short of the shattered remains of a bridge that had obviously been washed out by the storm. Now, in the place of the bridge, was a sheer fifty-foot drop into the raging waters of the river below!
This second close encounter with near disaster left him shaken to the very core. “What in God’s name is going on here?” he thought. “Is someone out there, or up there, trying to make an end of me?” he wondered diffidently. “I’m really going to be late now,” he mused, as he carefully turned the car around and began to retrace his path. “It’s a damn good thing I decided to invest in those anti-lock brakes!”
As he drove away from the shattered remains of the bridge, his nerves began to calm down and his thoughts once again turned toward his family. And as he thought about them, he began to become preoccupied with the troubling issues that had been raised at the District Conference. The retail sales figures were going to be announced tomorrow morning before the opening of the stock market, and these numbers would have a great impact on the overall outlook for his company. After the grilling he had received at District Conference, he really needed something good to happen, and a positive report tomorrow would greatly help things. He had always provided nicely for his family, and he couldn’t tolerate the thought of not being able to give them what they wanted.
Carried away as he was by the competing concerns now waging war in his mind, the man took little notice of the fact that about two miles down the road he passed a large SUV headed in the other direction at a fairly high rate of speed. The driver of the other car had flashed her headlights to prompt the salesman to turn down his high beams, which he grudgingly did after a few choice expletives about the other driver’s lack of patience. And then he continued homeward, dreaming happily of his family.
So, it will probably come as little surprise to the reader that the next morning, in his perusal of the regional newspaper, the salesman failed to take notice of the front-page story about the mother and her three children who had perished after their SUV plummeted into the very river that had nearly claimed his life (they were apparently on their way home from a summer camp). After retrieving the paper from the front yard, he had hurriedly turned to the business section where he discovered some exceedingly good, and surprising, news. The sales figures were much better than he had ever expected! “What a great thing it is to be at home,” he thought, as he celebrated the news with his jubilant wife.

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