Police cars tag-team up and down the funeral procession.
One police car, blue lights swirling, at the intersection, blocks north-south traffic while the procession moves slowly west.
Another police car surges forward passing the hearse, racing to clear the westbound lanes at the next traffic light then block traffic there.
A third police car spells the first police car which surges past the procession.
Blue lights flashing. Sirens whooping. A long line of cars coasts behind the hearse, headlights on, hazards blinking, the westbound passing lane empty save for the rotation of police cars racing from intersection to intersection.
Opposite lanes of traffic come to a halt, on a busy weekday, near the end of the lunch hour, when people are rushing back to work, or still trying to get a quick bite to eat, or run some errand, or do any number of things we all must crowd into our regular day-to-day lives.
Still, they stop for the oncoming funeral procession. They put everything on hold in respect for the person who has passed, for the family that has lost a loved one.
This simple act is one of the reasons I fell in love with Valdosta.
Not every place does this.
In a lot of towns and cities across the country, the opposite lanes of traffic don’t stop for a funeral procession. They keep moving.
That’s why one car may keep rushing forward in the opposite lane while the rest slow to a stop. That’s why some folks slam on brakes.
That’s why you may see one car continue forward, the driver glancing with uncertain curiosity into the rearview mirror at all of the vehicles stopping behind him, looking forward to notice all of the cars stopped ahead of him a little further up the road, his car slowing as he taps on the brakes, his car coming to a stop, alone and by itself in the opposite lane.
Welcome to South Georgia!
By blocking intersections, police escorts make sure cross traffic doesn’t strike the funeral procession, even if the cross traffic has the green light.
They also ensure the procession isn’t broken by stop lights, or interrupted by cross-traffic vehicles. Without the police cars blocking intersections, folks traveling in cross traffic may not know the line of cars is a funeral procession.
But there are no safety reasons or chances for disrupting the funeral procession if you’re traveling in the opposite lane.
There are no practical reasons to stop in the opposite lane. Not one. Not really.
Respect. Compassion. Honor. Reflection. Generosity.
These are some of the reasons people stop. Reasons that represent the best of us.
Sure, the peer pressure of everyone else stopping, or the fear a police escort might pull them over motivates some folks, but mostly, we stop because it’s the right thing to do.
We are motivated by the better angels in each of us.
We do not ask if the person in the hearse is black or white or Hispanic or Asian.
We do not ask if the person is legal or illegal.
We do not ask the person's sexual preference.
We do not ask if the person is old or young, male or female, Democrat or Republican.
We stop whether the funeral procession is two cars or 200.
We stop whether the person in the hearse was the richest or the poorest person in town.
We don’t ask about any of these things in the moment. We stop without knowing anything about the person.
We stop because we recognize that someone has passed. Someone who may be a stranger but meant the world to the people in that procession.
We stop because at some point we have been in such a procession or one day will be. Seeing the cars stop in the opposite lane means a great deal to the people in the funeral procession.
We stop because, one day, hopefully much later, we will all die.
Because at the end of a person’s days, we are more alike than we are different. We are more than our politics and bitter divisions. We are all human. We are all mortal. We all hunger, thirst, seek love and hopefully love in return.
We all breathe the same air, and some day we will, each one of us, breathe our last.
Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times.