Years ago, driving in an unfamiliar area, I realized that I’d just taken the wrong exit off the highway. I turned onto the first side street to retrace my route and correct my error. The church on the corner there was dark, so I turned around in its empty parking lot rather than trying to circle through the neighborhood to find my way back. The dusk was deepening and the street was eerily empty. I looked both ways, then drove back onto the quiet street in the direction from which I’d come, so that I could get back on the highway.
A car, horn blaring, suddenly appeared in my rear-view mirror, speeding over the hill behind me. I was almost at the corner intersection and its stop sign, but because of the urgency of the horn, I assumed the occupants were in an emergency situation and pulled over to let them pass. Instead of driving past, however, the driver– a young woman– stopped her car in the middle of the street, leaped out, and came running toward my car, shouting. I put down my window, bewildered and a little uneasy, but ready to help.
She screamed at me, not in urgency, but with an astonishing outpouring of rage. She ranted that I had pulled out in front of her and caused her to slam on brakes and I made her baby fall on the floor of the front seat.
When I had driven back out on to the street from that driveway only 15 feet or so from a STOP SIGN, her car was nowhere in sight. Why wasn’t the child in a car seat? Why didn’t she have her lights on? I thought these things, but could not get in a word.
According to her, the entire incident was my fault. She screamed and cursed and ranted, punctuating her tirade by whipping her long hair about in her fury. Her car remained in the middle of the street and if it held a child, she had left it on the floor in that stopped, unlighted vehicle.
I sat stunned into silence, unable to interject even a sentence into her angry diatribe.
I was certain that I had proceeded cautiously in an unfamiliar area and that she had not crested that hill when I pulled onto the street. She must have been speeding. I did not feel guilty, but I did feel bad about being a part of this surreal drama. I felt for her child now lying unattended in the car, her family which must have often been the focus of her anger, and the woman herself, carrying such a choking load of rage and victimization.
Not getting enough satisfaction out of simply screaming at me as I sat there, she reached in and slapped me sharply on the face.
I think I stammered out something brilliant like, “You’re NUTS!” and quickly pushed the button to close the car window. I drove off, leaving her standing in the street, still yelling.
I think about that woman sometimes and how she easily she donned her righteous cloak of indignation and went on full attack. The two of us saw the situation so differently. There was certainly no opportunity for a dialogue.
There was a time when I admired people who could see the world in black and white with no shades of grey. No longer. Life isn’t simple and there are not always clear, easy answers. Those sure they have all the answers often believe that because they have chosen to look no farther than the end of their own noses. In the United States of America, the other person’s opinion matters, too.
I think of that woman sometimes when I hear discussions about gun control. What would have happened if she had been a pistol-packin’ mama? Would she have brought it with her to my car or would it have remained, perhaps under the seat, with her child in the floorboard? Should I have had a gun, out on an unfamiliar road with an irrational stranger in attack mode?
I thought about that screaming woman this week as I watched our senators and representatives rant about “THEM” as if they are speaking of some enemy foreign government instead of other Americans with different points of view. Their conduct, in many cases, was arrogant, bullying, and hypocritical and served no purpose except to feed their own egos. They took no ownership of their parts in the financial crisis, saw no irony in their treatment of Judge Sotomayor.
My wise friend Martha once responded, after I went on a tangent about what “they” needed to do about some now forgotten situation, asked pensively,“Would that be the ‘Theys’ of Rapid City?”
Returning home on that long ago night, my face burning and my cheek still smarting, I noticed a hank of that woman’s hair hanging from my driver-side window. In my haste to get out of there, I must have caught part of her hair in the window when I closed it and my sudden acceleration had literally pulled it out of her head.
Empathy, a working moral compass for ones’ own behavior, self-reflection, and an open, inquisitive mind–these are qualities I wish for our members of Congress, not snap judgment and a knee-jerk acceptance of party lines. Don’t give me the official talking points memo; know what you’re talking about and form your own opinions.
Keep that self-righteous, judgmental attitude in check and the speeches short.
Indeed, these are qualities I also wish for myself. Human nature being what it is, however, better keep the hair short, too.