“Faulty Perceptions: How I Almost Got Arrested”
Shared Heart Column
Heartfulness March 2020
with Joyce and Barry Vissell
“Faulty Perceptions: How I Almost Got Arrested”
Perception is a tricky thing. What we think we see is not necessarily what is really there. We have to be very careful about the judgments we make due to faulty perception. As Aldous Huxley says in his classic book, The Doors of Perception, “There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” Another way of saying this: we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. We see the world through our own filters, our own state of mind and emotions. How often have we projected onto others what we ourselves are feeling.
What follows is a true story that happened this past year to me (Barry).
I was returning from a solo river trip on the Owyhee River in southeast Oregon last spring. I was in my pickup truck, with the truck bed filled with river gear, and the back seat filled with our two older golden retrievers, Rosie, and her daughter, Gracie. Driving through Sacramento on busy Highway 80, with 6 lanes going each way, with a sinking feeling in my stomach, I saw the flashing lights of the Highway Patrol car behind me. I heard the loudspeaker command, “Take the next exit and pull over.” Perhaps you know that sinking feeling: I’m about to get a ticket and I have no idea what I did.
Exiting onto a busy city street, I pulled over to the curb to await my fate. The police car pulled up behind me, lights flashing, but no one got out of the car. That seemed strange. Then, as I watched in the rearview mirror, a few minutes later a second car arrived behind the first, also with lights flashing. Then a third and finally a fourth car pulled in. It was beginning to look like a crime scene with all the lights and yes, I was beginning to wonder if I was the criminal.
With four police cars behind me, I suppose the policeman in the first car felt properly backed up, so he very cautiously got out of his car and slowly approached the passenger side of my truck. I saw him coming and powered down the front windows. Meanwhile, Rosie and Gracie, in the back seat, were sitting up and alert. The other police were now getting out of their cars and getting into support positions. It all seemed unreal.
Policeman number one arrived at the passenger side window, looked into the truck, focusing on the back seat, looked confused for a moment, then smiled and said, “Oh, they’re dogs.”
I said, “Officer, is something wrong?”
He said, “We got a 911 call from someone who was following you. They described a drunk driver in a white pickup truck with your plates, having trouble staying in the lane, with two little girls with blonde hair in the back seat. Looks like they were wrong about the girls.”
Then he asked me, “Have you been drinking?”
“No,” I answered.
“Are you tired?”
“Actually, no, I stopped about a half hour ago and had a nap.”
“Why would the driver describe you as drunk, swerving all over the highway?”
“Officer, as you can see, I have a few snacks on the seat next to me. Reaching for food might, I suppose, cause me to move a few inches this way or that, but certainly not out of my lane.”
“Would you mind stepping out of the truck for a sobriety test?”
In that moment, I reflected on my appearance. I had been driving or in the wilderness for a week. I was unshaven. I had no idea what my hair looked like. And then the combination of my smell, plus the two dogs’ river smell in the back seat, who knows what assaulted the officer’s nose as he leaned in my window.
I got out and joined him on the sidewalk. He held up a finger and asked me to focus on it as he moved it from side to side. He was looking for nystagmus, one sign of intoxication. At one point my eyes left his finger to look into his eyes.
“Don’t look at me. Just look at my finger,” he barked. What can I say? In my world, I look into people’s eyes, not at their fingers.
Meanwhile, the police officers from the other three cars, some with partners, now stood watching. One officer asked my permission to pet Rosie and Gracie. Another one took a peek into my truck bed and said, “Wow, you’re a rafter! I am too. Did you just come back from the American River?
While answering him, I happened to glance into the busy city street. There was a major traffic jam in all four lanes, with cars moving at a snail’s pace, while every person in every car took a good look at the major criminal surrounded by police on the sidewalk. I imagined someone leaning out of their car and yelling, “Barry Vissell, is that you!
However, no one recognized me and it all ended well. The police officer cautioned me to drive carefully, and let me go. As I pulled away from the curb, I imagined all the officers having a good laugh at the two blond canines in my back seat.
Our senses are often unreliable. It is our job to know this, and therefore question ourselves before we make a judgement. Speaking for myself, I have gotten into trouble many times by assuming things about others, especially my beloved, Joyce.
It is annoying when someone comes up to you and says, “Wow, you really look tired!” Is that supposed to be helpful? Are you going to feel better because of their comment? Okay, maybe you are tired, but more likely, that person is feeling exhausted and projects it all onto you. Better to say, and really mean, “Wow, you look radiant today!”
If you are the person who called 911 that day, of course I forgive you, but I also deeply encourage you to always question your senses, and not jump to conclusions so fast. And just to be fair, Rosie and Gracie did enjoy all the attention they got.