I remind myself not to speed.
Tillotson Avenue has evolved into a bit of a power path for the university police and the state highway patrol. Digital speed limit signs flash when you’re driving too fast, and ominous, radar-equipped SUVs conspicuously tuck themselves into alleys and driveways.
The courageously feckless disregard the warnings and speed along in perfect flow with the rest of traffic. But those of us who have been stung by misplaced courage know better, choosing instead to slow down our roll and flaunt our wisdom by turning on our right blinker and moving into the slow lane.
I, however, am neither the courageously feckless or the stung.
I’m merely a witness to someone else’s story, and through this witnessing, I’ve learned that sometimes, witnessing someone else’s story proves powerful enough to change your own.
This, I suppose, is what the story I’m about to tell you is all about. It is a story that belongs to someone else, but nevertheless, it has opened up a portal for my own story to take shape.
This summer, my son got pulled over on Tillotson Avenue. It’s a road that marks the far edge of the university campus, and it’s one of the busiest roads in our city. For the last 8 years that we’ve lived here, it’s been clear and common knowledge that NO ONE drives the speed limit on Tillotson, but over the last year or so, law enforcement has been pushing back against that common knowledge.
On a hot August evening, right before the sun started to set and stretch its pink-orange fingers across the indigo blue summer sky, my 17-year-old son burst through our front door and said, “I’m so stupid!”
After he quickly confessed that he had gotten a speeding ticket on Tillotson and then realized that his infraction wasn’t going to earn him a lifetime of inescapable fury from his parents, his penance turned to righteous indignation.
Apparently he realized that since we weren’t angry, it was now safe for him to be angry.
“She had no right to pull me over!” he fumed. “She’s a State Highway Patrol. That area belongs to the university police! It’s city limits! What was she even doing on that road?!!”
This is where we hit pause as the parents.
“You were traveling 20 miles over the speed limit. You’re lucky you didn’t get hit with reckless operation. This stinks, for sure, but don’t lose sight of who holds the blame here. What she actually did here was show you grace – even when you didn’t deserve it.”
This was lesson #1 on grace.
A few days later, he learned that if he paid the cost of the ticket, plus $40 for an online course designed especially for young kids without a fully developed frontal lobe, the ticket would be forever erased from his record.
“Is it worth it?” he asked.
“Do the research. See what it’s going to cost you in higher insurance costs if you don’t erase that from your record,” I told him.
He consulted Google.
His eyes grew wide.
He signed up for the course.
He saved thousands in overinflated insurance fees.
This was lesson #2 on grace.
BACK TO THE PRESENT
As I take my foot off the gas pedal (but not so much that I have to move out of the fast lane), I think about the young Afghan mom I’m traveling to pick up.
Her baby is sick – two eardrums seeping with inconsolable pain, eyes wet with agony. She and her husband have only just arrived to the States. Their names, I’m told, won’t even be in the system at the doctor’s office.
“Hopefully, a translator will meet you there,” my contact emails me. “Please make sure they get checked in.”
I check her email three times before I leave to make sure I have all the details.
I feel out of my league, way beyond my comfort zone.
I don’t speak Pashto, and the AI on my translator app can’t keep up with the real-human pace of their language. How do I show up with all of my familiar midwestern niceties when I can’t even speak the same language?
My gut churns with anxiety over the imagined awkward silences between us. And just as I’m about to get carried away with my own trivial discomfort, I see it – a small brick home that could likely mark the very spot where my son first saw the red and blue lights dancing off his rear view mirror this summer.
This time, however, there is no SUV, no university police, no SLOW DOWN sign to remind me that I live in a world colored by rules. Instead, I just see one very large white wooden sign: AUCTION.
Everytime I see an auction sign, I always wonder what happened.
Did someone die? Did a house get repossessed by a bank? Was there an unspeakable crime?
I have those same ponderings with this auction sign, too, and in true storyteller fashion, I waste no time filling in the gaps.
MY CREATIVE SPECULATION
An old man must have lived here, and after living a very long life, he died.
His kids grew up in this house, but because Indiana isn’t exactly on the list of Top 50 US States you would ever want to move to, his kids weren’t interested in moving back home.
Had he died a few months ago, this auction sign would have been a for sale sign.
His house would have sold for $15K past asking price, and his kids would have made triple the old man’s initial investment.
But the economy has changed. Houses aren’t selling so quickly. So his kids followed the advice of the financial advisor and auctioned his estate in a classic we-left-our-roots-quick-and-painless-cut-your-losses kind of style.
As I become more familiar with my made-up-old-man, I wonder. . .
Did he think about his life’s work being auctioned away back when he was my age?
Did he imagine how it would feel to have strangers walking through your house, taking mental note of the items they want to bid on, deciding if it’s all worth the investment, grabbing their tiny, numbered cards so they can raise them in the air when the auctioneer names their price?
The painting his daughter made? Sold for $10 to the highest bidder.
The glassware he received as a wedding gift? $3.
The chair he sat in every day, worrying about the world and wondering how he was going to afford the mortgage he never should have taken out? $FREE
SPECULATION. FULL STOP.
I pull up to the stoplight, watch as cars filled with humans of all ages pull into the hospital (some for work, others for life-changing news). I think about their own dreams and wonder if their hard days will feel like an equal trade when they show up for their last days.
“What are we doing all this for?”
I’m not sure if I ask that out loud or if I just say it inside my own head, but it’s a question that hangs over me until I pull off of Tillotson and drive two more minutes until I reach the driveway belonging to the young mother.
I knock. A woman answers.
“Hi! I’m Lindsay. I’m here to take you to the doctor.”
I have no idea if she’s going to understand a single word I’m speaking. I’m not even sure if “she” is the woman I’m looking for.
She invites me in, runs upstairs, calls out to the actual woman I’m there to help.
Doors open. Doors close. A fan blows a curtain, and I take a mental note over how narrow the doorways are.
Feet echo down the hall. A toilet flushes. A young man comes down the stairs. Barefoot.
He must be the dad, I think to myself.
He shakes my hand, introduces himself, repeats my name back.
He knows enough English to ask me if I have children.
“Yes. I have 4,” I say, holding up 4 fingers to make sure I’m communicating clearly.
“Five,” he says. “I have five.”
He’s grateful, so grateful that I’m there to take his baby to the doctor. When his wife comes down the stairs, we load the car seat and the baby into the car. The wind blows its 30 degree cold deep into our bones, and she holds her baby close to her body.
They only arrived in America this week.
In the five minutes it takes us to travel to the doctor’s office, she tells me that her feet get hot (and this is why she’s wearing flip flops in the Indiana December), and she says that she’s living in the same 1500 square foot home with her husband, her mother, her father, her sister, (maybe) an aunt and uncle, and all of their children.
I picture them all back home in Afghanistan. Homes that they left, not because they were auctioned or listed for sale, but because they were taken, stolen, abandoned, fled.
I don’t know how long their journey from Afghanistan to Indiana was.
I’m not even sure if Indiana was their first stop.
Our language barrier doesn’t let me get that granular with the details.
But what I do know is that I’m standing in the presence of a woman who left everything she knew in order to keep everything that mattered.
And with that, I remember the question I had when I was still trying not to speed on Tillotson.
What are we doing all this for?
The answer was so clear all along, waiting to find me there on the same road where my son first collided with the weight of its truth . . . lesson #3 on grace. When you make yourself smaller than the world around you, the world becomes big and beautiful and incredibly, incredibly good.
P.S. Why all this talk about grace? It’s one of the core values I use to order my life and my business. When you partner with me at Storyhouse Fifteen, you will collide with this value of grace because I believe that grace creates space for others to show up as 100% real. It prioritizes forgiveness and understanding, mercy and love, and there’s no other world I wish to live in than the one that’s been colored by the power of grace.
Read more about my values here.