Oblate Father Ed Ogden once reflected that getting stuck in traffic is a fine opportunity to stand still in solidarity with the poor. His point was profound and simple: Immobilized or slowed by traffic, we are then most like the poor because we, too, have so few choices. Our highway environment, despite our best efforts, completely limits us, preventing us from moving forward. Our lives are stalled. We are totally powerless. Perhaps this is why many grow to road rage.
When we arrive late for our appointments, those waiting to receive us are generally forgiving out of empathy because everyone has had the experience of being waylaid by traffic. However, when those who are poor are late or unable to meet expectations, are we or is our society equally forgiving? This level of discernment on our part could transform our solidarity with the poor, which comes with being stuck in traffic, to a conversion of attitude that mirrors the Gospel call to serve those on the margins of our society.
In The Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales invites us to keep company with the poor. For many, opportunities to live with and among the poor may not be frequent for us. Solidarity affords us a spiritual oneness to enter into a parallel experience of powerlessness, frustration, and even victimization of events that we have not caused. Yes, we can pray in traffic, including praying for the poor. Indeed, these are praiseworthy behaviors. But, once the dial of our car’s speedometer again moves to the right and we move forward, are we more compassionate with those whose life-traffic jams don’t resolve so readily?
As more of us take to the roads for summer vacations, let us be mindful of not just those who cannot afford a vacation but those whose lives are stuck by forces beyond their control. When our car stalls, we pray for a fellow traveler who can help us jumpstart the automobile. Sometimes lives are stalled. Are we Christian enough to pull over on life’s road to help others jumpstart their lives that have stopped for no reason for which they may be responsible?