This week, I was tickled by the idea of reading highway road signs as moral statements, or of using them in a story as metaphors for advice and guidance on the Road of Life. This was not how Flannery O’Connor came up with the idea for her story “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.” Biographer Brad Gooch (Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor) says that when she was writing the story, her first two choices for the title were “Personal Interest” and “The World Is Almost Rotten.” The final title was suggested by her friend Robert Fitzgerald, who had seen signs saying “Drive carefully – the life you save may be your own” when he was traveling through the South. O’Connor incorporated the slogan into her title, and also had her character H. T. Shiftlet see that road sign at his moment of potential grace.
I wondered what interesting road signs a shifty drifter driving through my local area might see, and what moments of grace or divine guidance those signs might call down. I decided to go out with a camera to take a look at any signs written in the imperative mood or beginning with the word “NO.”
The first thing I noticed is that I don’t really notice road signs. I see them, process the messages, follow the rules, avoid tickets for moving violations. Perhaps that’s the first bit of divine wisdom: on the highway of life, most people don’t really read the signs – and in so doing, miss out on lots of divine guidance.
The second thing I noticed is that people look at you funny when you pull over to the side of the highway and get out to photograph a road sign.
The third thing I noticed is that most of our local road signs are, well, boring. This is either because the majority of the residents of this county are Republicans who think that creative road signs that make you think are inappropriate governmental interference in their personal driving habits and thought processes – or it’s because the Democrats currently running the state road budget from Annapolis have overspent on social programs and there’s no money left for creative signage. You pick.
Here’s the latest and greatest “divine guidance” from the side of our local highway (your interpretation may vary):
In this neck of the woods, even most of the churches have boring signs. The Methodists, Episcopalians and Lutherans only post service times. The Baptists have a sign, but it’s not clearly visible from the road. The Catholics don’t have signs at all – you have to be a Catholic just to figure out where the Catholic churches are. But one local independent congregation has a pastor who must be divinely inspired: his sign is always pretty good, even if his message would be rendered more…precise…by the judicious application of punctuation.