November 02, 1995|By Jaye Dansicker

I PASSED A NUN on the beltway the other day. I was driving, but she wasn't.

She was standing alongside her car on the beltway shoulder. Her car, a plain, economical type, of course, had a seriously immobilized look to it: It was sitting cock-eyed on the side of the road, its front end down a little bit in a ditch.

She was just standing there, in her plain, economical type of civilian dress, beside the car's back left end. She could have been just about anyone's grandmother, broken down there, on the side of the road -- except for one thing.

She was wearing the one thing that immediately signifies ''nun,'' a head-dress.

Otherwise, she could have been anyone's grandmother, or mother, or even sister, standing by her car on the highway, and she would have had to do what most women in that situation have to do -- start walking. Maybe stick her thumb out. Hike up her skirt.

Survival rations

Or remain in her car to await help, surviving on the single-serve ketchup packages entombed in the glove compartment.

But she was a nun. She stood there beside her car, looking as sad and lost as a child, her hands clasped together on her chest as if in prayer, facing the on-coming traffic.

I quickly reviewed my options: I had 15 minutes to get to work, and I had six classes worth of college books occupying every available inch of space in my car, leaving absolutely no room for a nun.

I really had no choice. I did hug the left side of my lane in order to avoid hitting her.

But a nun in need is a nun indeed. The next thing I knew, cars were veering clear across three lanes of traffic, careening off the roadway, and pulling onto the shoulder faster than they do for a yard sale.

Was it because the person stranded helplessly out there on the highway was a woman? It can't be that, because I am a woman who has spent a few hours alone on the sides of highways.

Compassion for the sweet-faced

Was it out of compassion for a sweet-faced older lady? No, because just the other day I saw another sweet-faced older lady standing helplessly beside her car on the highway, without a single good Samaritan rushing to her aid. (That time I was driving on the other side of the highway.)

Well then, was it because the poor, helpless, sweet-faced older lady was a nun? Because of an underlying religious bond that automatically puts everyone on best behavior? Because of how appreciative the nun would be of anyone that stopped?

Heck, no.

Why risk near-accidents and a 10-car pile-up on the side of the road in a mad rush to come to a nun's aid?

Divine justice

Because of what God would do to anyone who didn't.

Is there a lesson to be learned here?

Heck, yes.

The next time I pass a costume shop, I am going to buy myself one of those head-dresses and keep it in my car at all times in case of a break-down.

Jaye Dansicker writes from Sparks.

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