Wednesday, June 30, 2004

It still was a good day....but...

Nothing deep or theological here...just some frustrating and embarrassing recent-history. According to a friend here, I became an official Chicagoan Tuesday morning. He called my experience "one of the rites of passage" for city-dwellers.

My car got towed.

The circumstances were so, so very stupid that I'm embarassed to even describe it. It was 4:00 AM...I'd just run my friend Ben and his wife Jen up to O'Hare Airport. They were leaving on a 6:30 AM flight to Costa Rica for vacation, which meant that they needed to get there about 2 hours early, which meant that we needed to leave about 3 AM to make sure we got there. Anyway, with no traffic at ALL on the Dan Ryan, we got up there in no time, I dropped 'em off, got back in no time, and realized that my stomach was on fire, because I'd taken my morning drugs and hadn't eaten anything with 'em. So I stopped at Dunkin' Donuts for a couple donuts and some decaf. Just a couple donuts...

The parking spots on the street were full, so I just zipped into the empty lot of the Osco Drug store dead across the street, walked the 20 steps or so to Dunkin-land, got my coffee and donuts, and came out. As I walked out the door, I got the shock of my life: my car, which I had pulled in facing the donut shop, was now turned 90 degrees away from it and was sitting at a funny angle. When my eyes adjusted to the dark, I realized the reason for it was that a black tow-truck had spun the car around, and had lifted the front end in the air. I ran across the street, screaming "HEY! HEY! WHAT THE HELL! STOP!!", but the guy saw me coming and roared out of there - sparks flying off my car's tailpipe as it bounced out of the parking lot. I'd been gone 180, maybe 240 seconds, max - so this guy either (a) was called by one of Chicago's finest, sitting in their cars watching the lot from the safety of the Dunkin' Donuts alley, or (b)they were just sitting there, waiting for some idiot like me to come in and make their night.

In that moment, I really, really understood about original sin, and my condition as a sinful human. Because despite my love of my neighbor as myself, despite my value on all human life as created by God and died-for by Jesus, despite years of commitment to non-violence...the fact remains that if I had access to a weapon in those few seconds, I would have committed homicide. I had visions of the bar scene from the original "Star Wars," of scenes from "The Godfather," "Saving Private Ryan," and other similarly peaceful, humanitarian movies. I was hearing Arlo Guthrie in "Alice's Restaurant" saying, "Shrink...I wanna KILL." I wanted to scream; I was all set to throw my donuts and coffee at something or someone - except that (thanks to the $125 towing fee I now owed) they had suddenly become the single most expensive snack-food I would ever purchase.

What amazed me (and scared me, a little) was the senseless rage that continued to burn in me long after I walked the five blocks back to the apartment, drank my $42 cup of coffee, and ate each of my $41.50 donuts. I know the Serenity Prayer as well as anyone, and I've prayed it a bunch...but at that moment, I didn't want serenity - I wanted to hurt someone. And that bothered me, a lot. Still does, in fact.

I guess what offended my sensibility was not that I got caught doing something stupid - there were, after all, two signs on the side of a dark Osco wall that said "no overnight parking" and "parking for Dorchester Commons only." When I pointed out to the towing-service lady that the signs weren't visible at night, that I wasn't taking anything from the tenants of Dorchester Commons at 4 AM, and that it had only been a few scant minutes, she informed me in a bored, callous tone that there was no time limit on unauthorized parking, and if I couldn't read, maybe I shouldn't be driving. (That helped my attitude a great deal, I can assure you.)

And it wasn't that I desperately needed the $125 for other things - though that part of it burned especially bright in the compound vulgarities I was hurling around in my mind.

I just hate the fact that there are certain businesses, and certain people, who operate with absolutely no tolerance and no compassion. (In fact, I just got off the phone with my buddy Mike M., who's having the same sort of "close encounter" with his landlord.) There is no element of "cut 'em some slack" involved when it comes to these people. It's all about money, and profit, and "How can I most thoroughly screw you today?" My immediate reaction is, "This isn't FAIR!", and I hate the fact that I'm losing something I want, or not getting something I need. That nonsense still makes me angry...period.

Once upon a time, I was given to rage at the drop of a hat. People who were close to me were scared to death of how I might react at any given moment...and I have worked long and hard to change that part of me. As a result, today I am normally a patient, compassionate and tolerant soul...having been both in telecom, and being in recovery and dealing with folks in church work helps build that in a person. But when something bites me in the nether-regions like this, it makes me so very angry that I could still feel the burn of it, 36-plus hours later. (That anger is the main reason I don't own guns, and don't hang out with people who do. Guns are all too often the solution for either rage or despair...and I can still find myself encountering one or the other, or both. So I just don't go there.)

When a friend in recovery later said something about using the Serenity Prayer, I wanted desperately to tell him what orifice to insert the text of that prayer into. (Hadn't quite gotten back to "patient, compassionate and tolerant" by that point.) I also know (almost by heart) a classic portion of the AA "big book" about acceptance:
And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. ("Alcoholics Anonymous," 3rd edition, page 449).
I know it...but I just don't want to hear about it at certain times - like Tuesday morning.

By Wednesday morning, the anger and resentment had degraded to whining, and by the evening, I could even laugh about parts of it. It's done; the money's gone; and all I can do now is go forward, and "try, try again."

But I know that, as civilized and as peaceable as I can be at times, there still is more than a bit of the monster still alive and well within me. As my friend Bob Sollmer often says, "The tiger is in the cage - but the cage is not locked." So thank you, God, that yesterday, my anger and resentment didn't hurt or embarrass me, or anybody else. Not everything I call "progress" in my life really is "progress" - but the element of self-control that I've been given in times of strong anger definitely is progress.

1 comment:

Dave said...

I think your reation was totally normal. Having something happen to my car, my home, or my health leaves me with a really helpless feeling that translates into powerfull anger or fear. I think it's just like that. Considering the other stuff you have going on I think you're probably holding together pretty well.