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JOY SYLVESTER-JOHNSON: Highway Robbery of The Self

Joy Sylvester Johnson

I was robbed.

It all started at church yesterday.

Leaving the Wednesday morning Eucharist 7:30 am service held at St John Episcopal Church, I witnessed a large flatbed truck ahead of me on Elm Avenue attempting to turn right onto Jefferson. I saw his trailer knock down a substantial rock wall in front of the church.

He kept going.

I called 911 and reported what I had seen. The dispatcher asked me if I had the license plate information. In an attempt to see his license plate I followed him as he slowly drove through several residential neighborhoods. Seeing that the truck was from out of state (Tennessee), I assumed he was “on the run.”

When I got close enough to see more, I read the plate information to the 911 dispatcher asking for police intervention. She asked if the truck had a business name posted.

I had to wait for the road to have two lanes before I could safely report the company name on the side of the truck to the dispatcher. That is when the same truck did the same thing. In an attempt to turn right from the wrong lane without benefit of a turn signal, the driver hit my car which was stopped at the same red light in the turn lane.

Again, the driver left the scene without stopping.

For a few seconds I was in shock, but my emotions quickly morphed into anger.

I continued to follow him for miles. He was just outside Franklin County when I was able to stop him and “encourage” him to wait for the police, who the dispatcher assured me were in route.

I fully expected him to be arrested for causing two accidents and leaving both scenes. He was not. I learned from the officer (correctly) that in Virginia the truck driver had 24 hours to turn himself in and report what he had done. (Since the driver said he had no knowledge of either accident I do not think that would have ever happened.)

Unbeknownst to me at the time, another lady exiting the church parking lot also witnessed what had happened and had called 911.

When reporting his version of events, the driver of the truck told a different story than the one I had experienced first as a witness and then as a victim.

I wanted justice. Perhaps I wanted vengeance, but “justice” sounds so much better than “vengeance”.

Through it all I was civil as was the truck driver, the officer and the other witness, but inside I was raging with a sense of righteous indignation. I was angry because the driver, although he said he was sorry when he saw the damage he had caused, did not take responsibility.

I was also angry with the overworked, underpaid police officer who had to become “Solomon” on the spot and in that moment decided to not arrest the truck driver.

I had once been told, “No good deed shall go unpunished.” In that moment I could have been easily converted to that perspective.

All day long I kept replaying the same tape in my head: Is it possible to knock down a substantial rock wall and demolish another car causing over $3,000 in damages in two separate events on the same morning and be totally unaware? Each time I asked the question the anger returned like a bad meal. I needed an emotional antacid.

Looking back I realized I had not once thanked God there was no one standing on that corner or that the truck had hurt only my new car and not my old body.

It took time for me to realize the level of anger I felt should have been reserved for something greater like world hunger or human trafficking or a host of other social issues that plague our world—not a traffic event.

I believe we have no control over the emotions that come to us, but I also know if I let uninvited anger take up residence, it always makes a bad situation worse.

Still, I held onto my anger (like a pacifier) most of the day.

All the peace in my heart from celebrating the Lord’s Supper an hour before seemed to have evaporated.

It wasn’t until the next morning I realized another crime had been committed.

I had been robbed.

Of my joy.

But the real epiphany came when I realized who the thief was . . .

It was me.

I had allowed a pretty common experience (a traffic accident with different perspectives about who did what to whom) change my entire attitude from one of serenity and joyfulness to one of suspicion and anger.

Here is what I learned.

I am not called to ignore wrongdoing, but I am called to do so without the luxury of staying angry, harboring indignation, assuming hidden motives, assigning blame, and a host of other rather unattractive thoughts and behaviors.

Learning how to “do good and resist evil” (words we say each week in that early morning church service) is a challenge for me. I want to “do good”. I want to “resist evil”. Doing them at the same time with a spirit of reconciliation and gratitude is going to take more practice. I sometimes feel like that guy on stage who tries to keep all the plates spinning. I suspect everyone involved in the Wednesday morning drama felt the same way since life happens to all of us.

Somehow I think there will be lots of opportunities for me to get some of that needed serenity practice going forward. Just in case, I decided to visit the great(est) physician for something to calm my spirit and this is what I was given:

Prescription written for Joy Sylvester-Johnson to be repeated as needed:

And what does the LORD require of you Joy?

To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

I’m glad it has unlimited refills.

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