Wednesday, November 4, 2015

More on Rage

Two more rage incidents encountered, or rather experienced, yesterday.

The first one, I was driving on Clayton Road which is a pretty fast 6 lane road.  All cars were driving at about 45 miles an hour but the light ahead of us changed to yellow, so, I slowed down and stopped at the line right after the light turned red.  The car behind me, though, wanted nothing to do with stopping and so honked crazily, swerved into the lane next to me and ran a completely red light while cussing me out the whole way.  Ironically, he then had to stop about 20 feet ahead of me behind other cars that were stopped at the next red light, meaning that I had to pull up next to this crazy, screaming man.  I don't know what he gained by running through a red light.  I do know he almost hit a pedestrian who had started to cross the street once the light changed to red.  I don't know what he gained through being so angry, but, again, I don't know what he was going through that day, that week, that month or that year.  Maybe he just needed a place to yell and I was a convenient target.  I do know that he added an edge to my morning, one I didn't need.  It won't change my behavior.  I still won't run red lights.  I don't really think we need to be in that big of a hurry that we risk other people's lives (like the pedestrian).  But I found myself wondering again about what good his rage did.

Then last night I was driving my daughter to dance.  I have to go through a parking lot and I am always pretty slow about doing that, recognizing the 10mph parking lot law and being aware that people cross wherever they want and you have to be careful.  None the less, a teenager wearing all black (and this was after nightfall) was sauntering across the parking lot without regard for anyone else.  I stopped in plenty of time - about 12 feet behind where she was crossing.  None the less, her mother, who was several feet behind her, started screaming her head off at me about ...well, actually, I don't know what she was screaming about, since I couldn't hear her.   I reacted the way any normal human being would.. knowing she couldn't hear me I immediately started using Sign Language and signing at her to "wait" and "stop" yelling at me.  Well, okay, maybe most human beings don't actually know sign language, and that wouldn't be their first reaction.  But it was mine.  For some reason this caused her to just scream more.  It was only later that I realized that the sign for "wait" could look like that "WHAT THE HECK?!" sign that many people give when they think you are doing something wrong.  So she may have misinterpreted my meaning.  Still, I don't actually know what prompted her initial rage.  I had another adult in the car and I asked both him and Jasmyn, "Did I make an error here?  Because I'm confused about why she is screaming at me."  Both of them said, "No".  I was driving slowly.  I stopped way back from where she was.  There was no reason for this outrage on this woman's part.

And yet, there it was.

I admit, I probably am affected too much by other people's rage heading my direction.  But I couldn't shake the painful, negative feelings for a while. And I wondered, again, about the purpose, the helpfulness, the goodness of rage.  What is the point?  Will her rage change my behavior at all?  No. I will still drive slowly through parking lots. I will still do my best not to hit anyone. Did her rage make her feel better?  I doubt it.  The times I feel rageful I just feel sick afterwards, not better.  When people reflect on their anger, I know they sometimes feel guilty, too, for attacking someone else who may not have deserved the outrage at all.  She might not be self-reflective enough to feel guilt, but either way, what could that expression of rage at a total stranger really do for her or for me or for the other passengers in my car?  Her daughter remained oblivious (which again shows how far away I actually stopped), so she wasn't affected.  But I can't help but wonder what kind of good these expressions of rage do.
 For anyone.

We have become a society that is so filled with anger that frankly, I don't know why we are surprised by all these mass shootings.  People become angry at the drop of a hat, they feel justified in their rage, and they act it out, sometimes in these extremely violent ways.  At what point is this not okay? Obviously shooting people is not okay.  What about yelling at someone else?  What about the rageful behavior we seem to see on a daily basis in our communities?  We seem to be okay with this behavior, and yet (not to go biblical on everyone but I am a pastor, after all), Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be in danger of judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be in danger of judgment." (Matthew 5:21-22).  To translate this more simply, even getting rageful at another is harmful. Period. PERIOD.  And the raging behavior is a behavior that will be seen, will be noticed, and you will be understood and judged for it (not by God.  My God has a lot more understanding and compassion.  But other people will see and judge you).

We are told we will be known by our love.  Do we demonstrate this consistently, or do we fly into rages that tell a different tale, not one of love, but one of intolerance, self-centeredness, lack of compassion and condemnation?  Our rage speaks volumes about who we are, about what we think, about what we really are at our core.  And if left unchecked, it will escalate into violence.  Let me say that again.  Rage, left unchecked, left undealt with, WILL turn into violence.  It starts with verbal violence and it becomes something more.  Either way it is violent.  Either way it is an assault.  Either way it is damaging.

Once again, I say, we have to be conscious of what we want to leave here with our time in this place. Do we choose to leave hatred and rage?  Do we truly want our legacy to be one of upsetting others, of hurting others, of damaging others?  Or do we want our legacy to be one of love, of peace, of compassion?  We choose who and what we want to be in this world.  We choose how we will be remembered and what we contribute to this world.  We choose the big picture of our time on this planet.

For me, I pray every day to leave more love and peace.  In the face of others' rage, sometimes this is a challenge.  And yet, closing my eyes and re-centering, taking a breath of peace, choosing to return love and peace for rage and hatred - these are choices I can make.  These are choices we all can make.  Each day.  Each hour.  Each moment we are given the opportunity to choose how we respond.