Mystery Unsolved


It happened driving home the other day and I am nearly sure it was not my fault. Yes, I was on the phone and the conversation was a touch heated. But, like always, I talked hands-free and cut my usual path northbound in the next-to-fast lane without swerving in and out of traffic. Moreover, I was such not a distracted driver that I heard the honk and therefore checked my mirrors.

Her tiny reflection was in the fast lane several cars behind me. She was waving one-tenth of her manicured fingers and repeatedly mouthing a short phrase that ended with the second person singular pronoun. “South Pole elf,” I thought and turned my attention back to my phone conversation and to the road in front of me. But she pursued.

Let it be known that I did not swerve in and out of lanes in order to get close enough to her to make eye contact. She did. When her Mercedes pulled adjacent to my passenger-side window, she crowded the lane enough that I could see her roots had grown out. I could read her lips. I could see the polish on one of her fingernails. After she said and signed her peace, she accelerated away, doing more swerving in and out of lanes, in order to get off at the very next exit. I wondered if that was really where she planned to leave the freeway.

This happened several days ago and I still cannot figure out why. Yesterday, I checked the back of my car wondering if perhaps someone pranked me by affixing an offensive bumper sticker on it, like, “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Ross Perot.” Nothing there. I have been thinking maybe she thought I was someone else. But what could he have possibly done to her to warrant more than a freeway mile of pursuit and obscenities? Then again, maybe she did recognize me. It is possible she knew exactly who I was. Maybe she is one of the many excessive cat lovers who read the first few pages of my book and now she wishes me dead. I will never know.

All I know is that out there somewhere between Solana Beach and Carlsbad on the California coast roams a woman who, at least for a stretch of time, hated me. Likely we will never have the chance to reconcile. “I am really sorry; did I cut you off?” “It’s not that.” “Aaah. Is it about the cats?” “How could you be so insensitive?” “Seriously, it was just a joke. Honest, every morning I feed the cat who survived and scratch her between the ears. Really, I like cats. Mostly.” “Well, I guess I am sorry I overreacted.” “Don’t worry about it. We’ve all done it before. Well, I mean, I have never pursued another motorist for over a mile spitting obscenities at her through our cars’ windows. But I understand.” “Yeah.” “Yeah.” We would find some awkward way to finish the conversation, excuse ourselves, and go our separate ways, both forgiving and forgiven.

I have no idea who that woman was. As I replay the incident in my mind, I have no idea who I am. I cannot figure out who any human being is. What kind of creatures have invented gestures and words to represent obscenities and then use them on strangers while driving seventy-eight miles an hour in a sixty-thousand dollar car on a California freeway? Who can explain the mystery of who we are and what we have come to be? Not I.

Yet, I do suspect the riddle of humanity is both more ridiculous and more magnificent than I can imagine this side of eternity. And we surely all will have a good laugh at ourselves when the mystery is revealed before the face of Christ.

Dave is an author, educator, and advocate of living simply. Dave has spoken nationally and internationally about simplicity. He has appeared in Time Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, the London Times, and The Guardian, and has been a guest of the 700 Club. His book The 100 Thing Challenge (HarperCollins, 2010) tells the story of his simple-living journey and the worldwide movement it contributed to. Dave holds an M.A. from Wheaton College and a B.A. from Moody Bible Institute. He works at Point Loma Nazarene University and lives in San Diego with his wife and three daughters.


  1. Jonathan Rogers

    Man, I love this. And thanks for including the link to the review of your book. That’s amazing.

  2. Chinwe

    “As I replay the incident in my mind, I have no idea who I am.”

    That line stopped me in my “tracks.” The deep mystery of the human heart! Such good stuff!

  3. Jennifer K.

    “Yet, I do suspect the riddle of humanity is both more ridiculous and more magnificent than I can imagine this side of eternity.”

    That you could distill an episode of freeway insanity to this truth: amazing!

  4. Loren Warnemuende

    Seems like more often then not in life we’re left befuddled, doesn’t it? The line Chinwe mentioned, “I have no idea who I am” in the story, jumped out to me, too. Thank The Lord He knows!

  5. David Mitchel


    The conclusion is magnificent, David. It reminds me of Peter’s responses to our Lord’s threefold “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know . . .”

    And thanks to the link to the review of your book. Pet cemeteries are full of indispensable cats.

  6. Kimberlee Conway Ireton

    Thank you for this! Like you, I replay scenes like these in my mind, endlessly, desperate for understanding and reconciliation with total strangers. I think the brokenness of the world cuts close to the bone in encounters like this, and I realize how very helpless I am to repair the breaks. Thanks for articulating the puzzlement and pain–and the future redemption–of these encounters. (And just for the record, I am learning to laugh at myself and my sensitive, drama-queen responses to angry drivers. Sometimes.)

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