First of All, Just Plead Guilty

My most expensive photo everI thought I’d share my $190 photo of a bird with everyone. It’s the first good photo I’ve taken of a Painted Redstart. You’re probably wondering how a photo I took could cost $190. Let me explain.

My plane had arrived after midnight, and I needed to teach in just seven hours. Pedro slept in the passenger seat while I drove home. I changed my cruise control to 55 as I drove through Payson, AZ during the wee morning hours. As I left town and headed down the hill to Star Valley, I yawned, and longed for an all-night gas station so I could buy a cup of cheep coffee and stay awake for the last 90 miles of my drive.

A bright light popped off to my right, and the instant adrenalin rush rivaled the blackest cup of coffee I could have consumed. I looked down at the speedometer and realized too late that I had missed the warning sign about the changing speed limit.

I knew I had received my first ticket-by-mail. A great way to end a stressful month. Not. When the bill arrived, I couldn’t believe it. The tiny town of Star Valley wanted to extort $210 dollar from me. Their electronically activated ticket-issuing computer had clocked me at 56 in a 45.

I begged to differ. I drove a Prius, and everyone knows that when in cruise control, the constant velocity engine keeps a Prius at a steady speed regardless of ups and downs in terrain.

As an inexperienced ticket getter, I assumed that I could just show up to court on the court date printed on the ticket, explain to the judge what had happened and he would have compassion on me and lower the fine (who has $210 extra dollars sitting around, anyway?).*(my 5 minutes are up, but the story isn’t over)

When I showed up, the receptionist at the courthouse told me that I couldn’t actually speak to a judge. I could get a court date. Things went downhill from there.

After six months of stress and worry about my daughter’s depression, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders—not to mention fighting with insurance companies trying to find the best care for her—I wanted to fight a battle I could win.

Instead, I ended up in a courtroom waiting for a judge who asked me a question I wasn’t sure how to answer. He wanted a black and white answer to his “How do you plead?”

I didn’t want to admit I was completely guilty, after all, I was guilty of speeding, but not guilty of going as fast as the computer had said I was going (I researched on line, and their sensors have a standard deviation of plus or minus 1 mile an hour).

Confused by his question, I pled not guilty. To which the judge answered that he would remand the case to the city’s attorney and I could show up in court three months hence.

Tears sprouted out of my eyes. I didn’t have time in my life (or money) to hire a lawyer, take another day off work and return to plead my case. I wanted resolution right then. The judge softened a bit and said I did have the option of go to talk to the city’s attorney and do some sort of plea bargain that would keep the ticket off my record and possibly lower the fee.

Did I mention that I’ve never been able to cry without an equal amount of snot gushing out of my nose? I think he sighed in relief when I petulantly turned my back and walked out of the courtroom. I made it to the bathroom to clean up my face, than headed to Star Valley to hunt down the city attorney.

By the time I arrived, I thought I had everything under control. When I spoke to the attorney’s secretary and tried to explain my plight, the tears sprang unbidden from some deep well. I tried to explain the injustice of a machine handing out $210 tickets because if a police officer had stopped me, we could have had a civil conversation and he or she would have been able to use common sense to decide whether or not I deserved a ticket.

Of course, I had come unprepared for another snot/cry combo, and the secretary had to leave the room to find a box of tissue. I ended up signing some sort of no-contest agreement with the attorney and he lowered the fine by twenty bucks.

I got in my car and drove slowly out of town and back towards home, the secretary’s advice to “get outside for a bit and enjoy the beautiful day” grating on my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard. What did she know? I wondered if the almighty electronic ticket giver handed out tickets to people who drove while impaired by tears.

Not wanting to chance it, I pulled over and sobbed for a while. I put the car in gear and continued on my journey—the deep blue sky mocking me. By the time I saw the road leading to the fish hatchery, I decided maybe I would head up and look for birds. I didn’t really want to show up at home in my distraught state and try to deal with a depressed daughter.

I hiked around a bit, and a flash of red and black caught my attention. I grabbed my camera and hurried back to the spot. Forty-five minutes later, I had captured a handful of great photos of one of the more difficult birds to photograph—the Painted Redstart. They hang out in low underbrush (so the lighting isn’t that great), they move quickly (so one has to anticipate their moves), and their coloring—black with white and red accents requires a fair amount of sunlight to actually capture the beauty of the bird.

As I got in my car and headed home again, I realized that maybe that nice attorney’s secretary had been right. Something about nature soothes me and helps me to refocus my attention.

The closer I got to home, the more I realized that perhaps the judge and the attorney weren’t part of an evil empire trying to wrest hard-earned money from guileless drivers. If I had just pled guilty when the judge asked me, I probably would have been able to explain my case and HE would have lowered the fine (probably more than a measly twenty bucks, too). After all, I was guilty of speeding.

In retrospect, I know that all too often I try the same tactics with God. I do something outside of his will and he convicts me of my sin but I want to argue with him and justify my position and explain why it wasn’t such a big sin, more like a sorta accidental sin.

I try to argue with God an explain that I just 'sorta sinned'. Click To Tweet

But sin is sin. Guilt is guilt. They both separate us from God. And if I don’t plead guilty, than my Advocate has his hands tied. He can’t speak up for me to the Judge, and the Judge won’t be able to extend mercy.

Lesson learned. Here’s my $190 photo.

The $190 photo
Have you ever had an expensive lesson (with a little grace note of beauty to make the pill easier to swallow)?

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Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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