A Middle-Aged White Woman’s Encounter with Two State Police Officers. Or: How I am unbelievably privileged, and it’s still hard. Or: Some of our laws are CRAZY!

Disclaimer, right from the start:  I realize in today’s world, this is hardly worth writing about – for more serious, intellectual reflections on race, see my friend Toddie Peter’s blogs –

Toddie’s post

Or check out my friends Rev. LeAnn McDannel Hodges or Rev. Cindy Cushman on facebook, mothers of rainbow-hued children, or my friend Rev. James Ellis III, whose pastorship is invisible but whose skin color is obvious.  None of this is theoretical or a laughing matter.  It’s their lives.

Otherwise, read on:

Here’s my daughter, Sadie:  The day was August 12, two days before her 16th birthday.



We went to the MVA for her learner’s permit test.  After long hours, she passed, picked up her temporary permit, and we got into my car.  And I backed out of my spot, right into another car.  An old Crown Victoria.  An unmarked police car.

I got out, investigated the damage, of which there was NONE.  This is important:  NOT EVEN A SCRATCH.  Bumpers kissed.  I started to walk back to the driver’s side, when I started getting yelled at.  Because the driver of that car, a State Police Officer who worked at the MVA, happened to walk around the corner and hear the bump.  He was angry.  And big.  And yelling.

I was like “What?”  Because yes, I was about to drive off without leaving a note because remember, NOT EVEN A SCRATCH.  Apparently, I was threatening his job:

if he didn’t report this, he would blow 20 years on the force;

didn’t I understand how serious this was;

anytime a state police vehicle gets into a crash it must be reported;

another person heard the crash so there was a witness.  And on and on.

Amy’s amygdala at this point, which HATES to get in trouble, is on the verge of tears.  Amy’s prefrontal cortex, which hates illogical authority, was sputtering, politely, but yes, with an edge.  Because NOT EVEN A SCRATCH.  And I’m being told – yelled – that the State Police from the nearest precinct must be called, they must come and investigate and report this as a crime.  You are KIDDING ME.  (sorry for all the caps, but seriously…..)

So, we wait.  No, we cannot move our car, which is now not only blocking prime parking spots at the MVA, but the entire roadway.  It is hot.  I’m vacillating between tears of getting in trouble, and frustration at HOW RIDICULOUS this is.  My daughter takes a nap.  It occurs to me this could have been worse – She could have been driving.  My daughter wakes up.  She asks, “Why can’t we just take a picture, send it to the precinct, let them determine if it’s worth reporting or not?”

One hour forty-five minutes during which I get berated a wee bit more before the “victim”of this crime goes back into his comfy air conditioned seated post.  I remain perplexed as to why he is so freakin’ angry, because his life is not disrupted in the least.

The State Police Officer comes.  It takes another hour, at the end of which I am told that even though this is absurd, ridiculous, illogical, a COMPLETE WASTE OF EVERYONE’S TIME, I have to go to court.  Yes, you read that right:  I am going to court; the state ticketed me; they may ask me to pay hundreds of dollars to repaint the 20 yo, 200K + miles Crown Victoria bumper; and this poor police officer has to go to court as well.  If I just pay the fine, and skip court, my insurance company will raise my rates.

He was so incredibly kind, breaking role to let me know that he too found it ridiculous, and there was an overturned tractor trailer on the DC beltway and a child trapped in a car, and he would much rather be there.  So now I feel horribly guilty AND indignant.

But:  I am white.  I have more or less decent emotional regulation (I didn’t get hysterical with weeping or screaming.)  I am female.  I am small.  I was professional dressed (well, on-sale REI and Title Nine clothes – but obviously middle class)  I am well-spoken.  I admit I did indeed back into the other car, so I readily admit my guilt (although I did have to add, “But seriously, the punishment here does NOT fit this crime!  NEAS!)   I have got to be about the least threatening specimen of an adult human being a police officer can ever expect to deal with.  In this interaction, I was privileged 6 ways to Sunday.

But here is what matters:  I  know just how differently this could have unfolded:  If I were poor.  Black or undocumented.  If I couldn’t control my amygdala or my mouth (not that it wasn’t a struggle, mind you!)  If I were a large male in an old t-shirt and flip-flops.  If I were missing teeth.  If I got belligerent.  If I verbalized my thoughts:  This is the DUMBEST law I have ever heard of, and I’m not staying!  If I were losing pay, and maybe my job, because what should’ve taken 2 hours was now closer to 5.  If I wore a burka, or hijab.  Spoke another language.  And all the other ways I take so for granted I don’t even realize.  Our brains are wired to stereotype, categorize, take short-cuts.  Sometimes it falls our way, and when it doesn’t fall someone else’s way, we are wired to assume it was their fault.  But those same brains are wired to analyze, if we just use them.

Jesus’ Mirror Neurons and Synchronicity

Ever since I used the shortest verse in Christian scripture to bring God’s comfort to the congregation mourning Aunt Carolyn’s death, the two words, “Jesus wept,” have hung around the edges of my mind.

This past Sunday, those nine characters were embedded in the lectionary passage from John’s gospel, the one so well known as The Raising of Lazarus.  And that is what I preached:  “Jesus wept.”

But you know what?  Jesus ONLY wept when he came face to face with Lazarus’ sister Mary, crying in her grief.

There is no other record of Jesus’ tears.  Not when he hears that his good friend Lazarus has died.  Not when Lazarus’ other sister Martha (the complainer) complains to him.  Jesus doesn’t cry at the Last Supper, washing the disciples’ feet, or breaking the bread, or acknowledging he knows Judas will betray him.  There are no tears at the Garden of Gethsemane, or on the way to the cross, or on the cross.  

The tears only come when he sees Mary, Lazarus’ sister, crying.  And then he cries.  Now, the very next sentence has the crowd interpreting those tears, “See how much he loved him!”  But I think they have missed the point.  

Human beings are wired to mimic one another’s facial expressions.  Immobilize your face by holding a pencil in your mouth (or get too many botox treatments) and you can’t figure out what another person is feeling – At least not as well. http://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:327146/FULLTEXT01.pdf

There is something about not just seeing, but a mimicking what you see, that lets our brains connect.  Part of the puzzle has to do with these little neurons called “mirror neurons,” that not only start firing as if we are the ones gesturing or expressing, laughing or crying, when we see someone else do these things, but they light up in anticipation of the other’s next move.  

Another part of the puzzle has to do with the “positive synchronicity” that shows up between two people – In fact, Barbara Frederickson suggests another dimension of emotion is something happening to two people at the same time, not just contained in one body.  She also says that when we cut off vocal tones, facial expressions and gesturing in our communication patterns  – That is, we reduce all communication to texting – We no longer resonate with one another.  (from a lecture she gave at the Psychotherapist Networker, March 2014.)  (Check our her website here:http://www.positivityresonance.com)

Back to Jesus:  In my sermon I suggested that it was at this point, and not before, that Jesus really knew in his core what it was to be a full human being.  It was in this moment of connection with Mary that he understood the vulnerability and loss we all  face in this human life.  Mary’s tears brought tears to his eyes, in an amazing example of how we are wired to connect.  And how our Maker longs to connect with us.