Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Heaven was the other way.
I waited five minutes before I finally decided I should abandon the left turn.
My motorcycle doesn't weigh enough to trip the sensor to make the light change at many intersections. And with no one driving up behind me in a heavier car, I'd been stuck glug-glug-glugging for long enough.
So, I turned right instead, figuring I'd u-turn after a couple hundred yards and be on my way home.
I didn't get all the way up to the speed limit due to my about-face I had planned. But the opportunity to u-turn didn't present itself as quickly as I'd hoped. At first I couldn't turn around because it was unsafe. After another hundred yards, it was illegal. After another fifty, it was impossible because of the big cement dividing hump that appeared like a stone whale out of an asphalt sea.
But I could see ahead another fifty or sixty yards where a u-turn would be more reasonable. So I continued on in the left lane, driving at probably 10 miles an hour under the speed limit, scouting out the precise spot for a pirouette. Seemingly at random, I looked in my mirror.
A truck was bearing down on me, his front bumper dropping as the driver was apparently standing on the brakes. I accelerated to stay well in front of him. I've played enough pinball to know as a matter of instinct what the big plunger does to the little shiny ball. As I sped up, the truck swung around to my right side, slowing to just a fraction faster than my speed. This allowed the driver to give me a full opportunity to see his raging, snarled face and his muted obscenities mouthed through his driver-side window.
And as he passed, the strangest reflex employed itself in my right hand.
I cranked the throttle to match his speed.
On impulse, something in me had decided that this man getting away with his misplaced anger and condescension toward me wasn't happening. The man was in his fifties or sixties, and should know better. I wasn't going to allow him to think it was ok to just drive by judging me.
Mess with the bull, you get the horns.
Want a piece of me? How 'bout the whole cake?
You just bit off more than you can chew.
Gary has a rash and he's out of aloe.
Ok that last one I just made up and I don't know what it means.
Suffice it to say that an outdated bravado was immediately there to take over. Something I thought was almost entirely gone came back in full, and suddenly Dr. Banner was wondering why his helmet was getting so tight and his pants were splitting. Now Hulk bike heavy enough for sensor.
And with the full-fledged rage, a self-righteous internal victim joined in:
The guy doesn't know the reason I was going marginally slower. He didn't even ask. He went straight to selfish, inconvenienced lividity.
What if I was running out of gas?
What if I was having seizures?
What if I had a flat?
He doesn't even know if I need help.
He's nearly twice my age, and he still get irritable over losing 4 seconds from his agenda?
At this point I could see that my acceleration was interpreted by him as aggression. His face scrunched more, and he yelled through the window in a way that, though I couldn't hear any of it, clearly communicated Gary indeed had a very bad rash and there was no aloe for miles.
Hm. Somehow that makes more sense there.
I passed the spot that I had previously determined a safe u-turn could be made. I was now otherwise engaged, abandoning turnaround for an irrational belief that I had other, more important things to attend to than going home.
Traffic was stopped ahead at a light, and we would be coming to a stop as well. My heart was pounding, even though this entire exchange was literally about ten seconds old. I'm still amazed at how quickly I went from casual driving to ready for battle. And this next intersection would be the battlefield it seemed. I could feel anger in my hands. An old, familiar tingling that, a hundred yards back, I would have believed were from an earlier time of immaturity.
My face shield and sun visor were still down, hiding my face, so the guy probably thought he was barking at some teenaged whippersnapper. The thought occurred to me to yank off my helmet and give him crazy face. Psy-Ops, you know. Because the face of a middle-age crisis might have surprised him into a terrified stupor, causing him to drive away through the grass median while apologizing in a high-pitched whimper. I'm not saying any of this was rational. Hulk just confess.
The driver had escalated to pointing as he yelled. This was perhaps to help me be sure, in case I wasn't, that I was the object of his loathing. (I wonder now if the reflection of himself doing this in his window told a truer story.) The light went green but we had both slowed to a crawl. This slower speed allowed more time for exchanging evil countenances. Neither of us knew why we were mad, and couldn't remember the beginning of this madness. We had always been enemies as far as we were concerned in that moment. Although we would both be able to give all kinds of reasons for our anger. Never underestimate the intellectual brain's ability to almost immediately justify the emotional brain's recklessness.
As the intersection neared and the traffic ahead of us began to pull well ahead, a tiny mote of a voice sounded from somewhere deep inside me. And if it were actual words, it went something like this,
"This is nothing you'll be proud of. This is nothing you're working toward and living for. Do you really intend to continue down this path?"
At this, I checked my mirrors, and seeing no one behind me, I let the bike slow. I put up both of my hands to say "what's your problem anyway?", while also fully aware that from his perspective, it also communicated, "What are you going to do, chicken? Bok bok bok." He extended one arm out his window, palm up, to communicate the latter right back to me.
He drove on.
I stopped, completed my u-turn, and entered into a dark, disappointed fog for the next couple of hours.
As is so often the case in my life, I should have just been patient and gone the other way.
I prayed on my way home. I asked God to forgive me for believing so fundamentally that I could successfully answer immaturity with immaturity. For justifying my wrath to myself. For embracing adrenaline and aggression and not humility and self-control. I told Kristi about all this later after she asked me if I was ok. She could tell I was a little sideways when I got home. I was humiliated to admit that within less than a third of a minute, I had gotten a most unfortunate, real life review of my spiritual maturity. As always, she was very compassionate and understanding. She knows that I've had an unwanted relationship with an ugly dog in me and that I have tried over and over to leave it in a bag in the river. She knows that this dog, if even in intervals of years, always seems to find his way back to me. She loves me anyway. She loves me even though this dog snapped at her more than once. I felt better walking through the details of the story with her. Dr. Banner was back and was ready to put on new pants.
The next day I talked to my very good friend, TJ. By then, all the emotion was gone and it was just a bewildering report of the facts. When I was done, I said, "once again, I let the base of me overpower everything else. I wonder if I'll ever mature." He had a remarkable response:
"Isn't that heaven?"
I didn't get it so I asked him what he meant.
"The conquering of all that base, physical stuff. Isn't that heaven on earth? When you no longer get angry or adrenalized and subvert your own spirit with all those ugly impulses?"
I felt a smile stretch across my crazy face. I immediately heard Jesus teaching his students to pray; "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven." (In other words, "Your way be in effect here, the way you want things, here in our physical, tangible lives as they are in the unseen realm.") These words were important to include in a short prayer because there's something within us all that works against it. And when it resurfaces, it surprises us with intensity and its desire to re-inaugurate the animal kingdom in place of God's.
I thought of Jesus referring to the Kingdom as both being in our midst, and yet still not fully here. It whispers u-turns, typically long before we ever consent to do one.
I thought of Paul's words about the flesh and the spirit being antagonistic to each other, even within himself. Even while he was inspired to write what we call scripture.
I was reminded that faith in Christ is largely a war within the self, between two selves. Not with others. On my motorcycle I simply reverted back to the childish belief that I was at war with other people. At the store. In my family. With others of different beliefs and philosophies. But none of those are inspired wars. Those are just childish squabbles over the preferred speed of traffic and an entitled sense of being treated well. I forgot that the one true war is the long, drawn out, bravely aware and non-anxious process of replacing the impulse for hell in us (which results in hell between us all) for the way of heaven. With peace and love and all those other fruity words Paul suggests.
TJ reminded me that heaven isn't just a place, but is what happens when the things that make us unlike Christ, unlike even our own truest nature, finally replaces every counterfeit, base thing in us. And this isn't something you should expect to have resolved in your thirties. The only One who ever did have it together in His thirties was executed by people who maybe never did.
Later that day I prayed for a man I don't know. I prayed that whatever it is in his life that allows him to get angry so fast will be dealt with redemptively. I prayed for forgiveness for being an instigator of anger in his life to the extent I could control that. I prayed that I would have a better set of instincts next time, dialed to love and humility rather than, frankly, a dangerous escalation to win a cockfight that neither of us could legitimately justify. I prayed that I would, with my new found awareness of the work I have left to do in this particular department (and I have numerous departments), that I would have greater courage to turn around earlier and earlier. And it does take courage to risk looking weak rather than prove you are by fighting about nothing but ego.
So I will continue to pray for this courage and awareness to change directions earlier. Because heaven, I'm finding, is typically arrived at by way of well timed u-turns.