The Golden Rule of Carpool

No matter what faith tradition you come from, or even if you come from none at all, we’re all familiar with some version of The Golden Rule:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

We learned it in our kindergarten classrooms, sitting shoulder to shoulder with the nose-pickers and glue stick-eaters, pretending we weren’t one of them. We heard it echoed at the start of every school year, when teachers established the rules that would govern the classroom. From playground politics to sticky-fingers in the supply cabinet, they could always refer back to that ethic of reciprocity, forever posted in a prominent place for all to see.

Following The Golden Rule was tough enough to do back then, but in many ways, I think it’s even tougher to do now. Oh, we might think we’ve got it down, waiting patiently in the Starbucks line, holding the door for strangers, and wishing acquaintances and friends “Happy Birthday” on their Facebook pages, but every day, from gossip (celebrities count!) to driving (don’t we like to see a blinker once in a while?) to how we greet our loved ones when they come home, we are challenged to act only in ways we would want to be acted upon.

Because of my faith tradition, I have had the added bonus, (or onus) of following Jesus’ precept to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” As a young person, I thought the two rules were synonymous, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to see how much more challenging it is to follow the latter, instead of simply abiding by the former.

Take carpooling, for instance. Are you familiar with the “Golden Rule of Carpool?”

Carpooling is a fact of life for most families, a necessary evil one moment, and a lifeline the next. With careful planning and selectivity, a carpool can magically reduce your driving workload in half, sometimes even more. It can give you time, peace of mind and a little more money in your pocket (or a lot with gas at $4/gallon.) However with the wrong people involved, carpooling becomes an exercise in frustration and masochism. Any experienced parent knows this, which is why we manage our carpools so carefully.

So on the surface, it would seem that the “Golden Rule of Carpool” is pretty straightforward. Carpool with people you trust. Show up on time and on the right days. Deliver children to the destination in a timely manner. Bring them home again safe and sound and having learned no new curse words from the moment they entered your vehicle until they left it. That is “doing unto others what you would have them do unto you.”

But is there a difference between that and “Christian Carpooling?” Recently I was challenged to think about what it means to truly follow in my Rabbi’s footsteps and “love my neighbor as myself” when it comes to the daily grind of transportation.

I’m not speaking of the times when we “rise to the occasion,” as my mother calls it. I am sure we’ve all stepped up and helped out a friend, or neighbor in need, due to sickness, injury, or hardship. In those cases, we don’t even mind doing all the driving ourselves, if it truly helps someone. We feel kind of good about making the sacrifice and deep down we expect that someone would do the same for us, if circumstances were different.

But what about those times when there is no need, no ‘occasion’ to rise to? What is The Golden Rule when it comes to someone else’s convenience, especially if it slightly inconveniences you? This was my dilemma.

My three kids have gone to a jr. lifeguard program every summer for the past four years. The beach is about 15 miles from our home and I have carpooled with the same two families every year. We have the “Golden Rule of Carpool” down pat. We show up. We drive safely. We even treat all the kids to Slurpees once, or twice a week. There is music; there is laughter; there is dancing; there is joy. This is my wheelhouse; sandy, salty, sunburned, wet-headed kids are a favorite of mine.

My carpool was planned weeks ago. We even included a new family for two of the four weeks when they needed our help. The passenger manifesto was maxed out at seven, (which is why so many of us can never get a Prius though we long for one.) I had an IPod full of summer pop music to wake the kids up on the morning commute, and I was looking forward to hearing all about their adventures when it was my turn for the afternoon drive home.

And then on Saturday night, just two days before the program began, I got a text from a mom I know in the neighborhood. I wouldn’t call us friends, but we are definitely friendly.

Her: I saw your kids are in Junior Guards with one of mine. Can we carpool?

Alas, No, was my easy answer. We are all full up, with 5, then 7. Sorry!  But, I added with Christian charity, if you get in a pinch, give me a call and I will try to help out! 🙂

She responded back quickly with Do you know such and such? which I did, of course. That family provided our #6 and #7 for part of the program.

Me: Yes, they are with us. Sorry!

To which she replied, Oh, you have 7 and I only have 1! Boo… hoo… 😦

At which point, my guilt kicked in. Something about those numbers tugged at my heart and I gave up on the “Golden Rule of Carpool” and switched to the concept of “Christian Carpooling” instead.

(A downside to a daily practice of meditation and prayer is that you become more and more aware of how everything you do is an act of faith.)

I started to think about how many carpool parables Jesus might use if he were alive today in Southern California. I thought about how I had “many” and she had only one. I thought about how I was part of the “inside” group with my carpool all organized and fun. I thought about how it must feel to be on the “outside,” just she and her child. I thought about how truly golden it would be if I reached out and included them, however I could.

I thought about all those things and then I did nothing.

But the very next day I got a phone call from her, asking again very nicely to please include her child in our carpool, at least at least for two weeks before the other kids joined in.

On the spot, I caved and Tim just shook his head. I have a long and checkered history of taking on other people’s carpool problems, but I couldn’t help it. Though I didn’t want to change my plans, it just didn’t seem right not to make her problem my own.

Is that last statement a sign of Christianity, or co-dependency? Is there a difference? Is that why we have so many co-dependent Christians?

And so in the midst of my Sunday chores, while my kids were out back, swimming and eating popsicles, I began the shuffling of responsibilities, the emails, and phone calls to the original parties: the “Would you mind…?” and the “How about…?” and the “Does this work for you?” When I got to the end of the driving assignments, I had apparently made a mistake, because then the text messages began. Our new carpool member couldn’t drive certain days and times and though the requests weren’t unreasonable by any means, I had to be the dispatcher, and start over again.

Sigh.

Why does “Christian carpooling” always come back to bite you in the butt?

I would like to say that my charitable impulse to include our new carpooler made these chores a breeze. I would like to say I felt good about rearranging our schedules. I would like to say I did it all with a smile on my face and love in my heart, but I would be lying. I didn’t. I was actually pretty darn bitter about having to spend time on a beautiful afternoon on something I didn’t want to do in the first place.

While I think I did the right thing by helping out this mother and child, I sure wish that when I have an impulse to do the right thing that impulse would stick around a little longer and carry me through the execution phase as well. But I guess an impulse is just that – a pulse. In my case, a split-second surge of goodwill, of trying to love my neighbor as myself, caused me to lose an hour or two to general crankiness, which I directed at the people around me. It was “the Cheese Touch” all over again.

When Tim called me out on it, I didn’t know what to say except this: I wish I were more holy, more Zen, more able to have my inside emotions align with my outside actions. I’m trying to get there, but when I struggle so much to get it right when it comes to something as simple as carpooling, I’ve clearly got a long way to go.

Post Script: We are three days into the jr. lifeguard program and our additional passenger is lovely. Neither child, nor parent has added one bit of stress, or unpleasantness to our days. In fact, the conversation is better with this one around.

Note to self: Make the effort. Withhold judgment. Love your neighbor.

Disclaimer: If you read this and knew I was writing about you, thank you for carpooling with us for these next few weeks. It’s a pleasure.

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