Dashboard Hope

I was banging my head against my car’s steering wheel the other day when I noticed something. I’d just gotten off the phone with the DMV and was processing the lovely conversation when my eyes fell on the dashboard. There, just below the tachometer, boldly printed in all capital letters, were the words “FUEL DOOR” with an arrow pointing to the car’s passenger side. I required a second of consideration before realizing it indicated the location of my gas tank.

On the one hand, I was amazed I hadn’t taken note of this before. As with many discoveries, I felt inevitably stupid. I’ve owned this car for two years, in which time I’ve allotted over 60,000 miles. During those many hours, I’d studied the intricacies of my vehicle and knew the view from the driver’s seat fairly well. But I’d never noticed this.

My previous car’s gas tank was located on the driver’s side; after six years of ownership the habit of pulling up to the right of a fuel pump was permanently imbedded into my mind. On countless occasions, I’ve chugged into Citgo, killed the engine and bounded my way to the fuel station only to conduct a smooth “I-just-realized-I-don’t-actually-need-gasoline!” turn before getting back in the car and driving down the road to first gas station that was out of sight. And yet, all along, there was a little note on my dashboard quietly urging me to avoid these mistakes.

What’s truly remarkable to me about this notification is that no one had to put it there; the fact that it even exists is a graceful act of some random car designer. I mean, let’s face it, a “FUEL DOOR” notification is not going to “up” the value of any car; its not exactly a marketable feature:

“Now, what can you tell me about this model?”

“Well, sir, it has power windows, CD player, anti-lock breaks, goes 0-120 in five seconds, a lifetime warranty, will win you instant street cred and if you sit in the passenger seat, you’ll see these words here telling you where your fuel door is located.”

“You don’t say? Tells you exactly which side it’s on? I’ll be…”

Even at the level of the assembly lines; whoever was responsible for ensuring the inclusion of these words on the dashboard had to realize that there’s no way in the world they could get fired for leaving them out. Yet along the way, everyone chose to include them so the future owner (had he taken note) wouldn’t perpetually look like an idiot.

It’s been nearly two weeks since the terrorism attacks on Boston. My heart goes out to everyone who was affected, though these events didn’t rock my world with the magnitude of those standing right next to the explosions. Just as disturbing as the bombings themselves are the allegations and reactions of many fellow citizens. Muslims in our country are once again marginalized and targets of fear and anger. Threats and degradation pours through the social media, and the lives of various scapegoats have been shattered since the attacks. In light of such hateful reaction to hate, I can’t help but wonder if there’s any good left in us all.

But of course, there is goodness and there is grace. It was seen in the hearts of many runners who finished their marathons and went straight to the hospital to donate blood. It was seen in the hands of a policeman who, amidst a citywide lockdown, delivered two gallons of milk to a family with a young child. It was seen in a letter from a Chicago news department to their eastern colleagues, encouraging them in their efforts to fulfill their jobs and then covering their lunch. And then there’s my car’s dashboard.

We tend to forget there is evil in the world until it smacks us upside the head. When this happens, we tend to forget that there is good, that there is grace, and that grace has conquered evil. From the designer down to the assembly line employers, the decision to include the reminder “fuel door, this side” was a selfless act. Somewhere, a total stranger took the time sans incentive to place those words on the dashboard, just so whoever drove the car wouldn’t look like a dweeb. If there’s grace to be found in this world, that’s a small, tiny portion of it. Lest we think such an occurrence to be insignificant, we must remember that no grace is wasted. We need to remember grace exists and be careful not to waste it because we also need to give it, from little notes on dashboards to mercy and compassion to those who’ve terrorized us the most. Evil can always emerge but grace is eternally prevalent; you just have to know where to look.

For the record, though, I wouldn’t start with the DMV.

2 thoughts on “Dashboard Hope

  1. Us designer types actually think about these minor details to help make peoples lives a little more simple.

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