I’m a big fan of peace and harmony. Because of this, I generally don’t struggle much when it comes to forgiving others. Subconsciously, it feels far better than carrying an unpleasant conflict around in my heart.
But there’s one thing that I am loath to forgive. It’s embarrassing to admit to something so petty, but I can’t forgive rudeness from other drivers.
In my defense, I come by this honestly. My grandfather, an
infinitely kind and gentle man, nonetheless remembered every insult that had ever happened to him on the road. I distinctly recall his outrage when, in his words, “a chick in a Rambo truck” cut him off on the freeway. I don’t know whether to blame nature or nurture, but I’m the same.
I was reminded of this recently, as I was pulling my car out of a crowded parking lot. All around me cars were circling like vultures. I backed out at a wide angle, intending to turn and exit the parking lot. Unfortunately, a woman in a massive white SUV pulled up right where I needed to go. She wanted my parking space; I wanted to be where she was. We were trapped.
Now I drive a Honda Accord, which ten years ago was a normal-sized car. These days, in any given parking lot, it looks like a golf cart. Had the woman been in a smaller car, we would have been able to squeeze past each other. As I pondered this, she gestured angrily for me to back up. I wouldn’t have minded a gentle wave, but this was just plain rude, the kind of gesture you’d use to order a dog outside. I also wasn’t sure I could back up without inflicting damage on the car behind me. So I didn’t move, and her gestures grew angrier. Then she started yelling; I could literally see her mouth moving through the glass.
After increasingly violent gestures and more silent yells, I finally managed to back my car up the barest of distances, until it was nuzzling a neighboring bumper. She drove past me in a white chrome fury, and I pulled out of the parking lot, glad that she had not been at the right angle to take my space. I was fuming. What right did she have to be so rude?
Months later, the memory of this encounter still makes me boil. This is precisely why it’s such a good opportunity for me to think about forgiveness.
Why am I so reluctant to forgive this woman? Ultimately, it’s because I believe I have a right to my anger. Any observer of our little parking lot rumble would surely agree that she was unnecessarily rude. But just because something is a right doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. Because of my anger, I could feel my blood pressure rise as I drove home. The same thing happened when I told the story to my husband; I could feel myself becoming tighter and crabbier. I wanted him to say, “That woman should be in the seventh circle of hell.” But he didn’t. He just gave me a smile that said, Ginny, this is really not worth your anger.
He’s right, of course. After all, it’s no secret that there are tremendous benefits to forgiving others. Happiness, spiritual harmony, good health: these are just a few of the perks. Of course, forgiveness is also demanding. It requires a willingness to move beyond my injured pride, to stop nursing my perfectly justified resentment. It means consciously relinquishing my right to be angry – and I, like many of us, prefer to hold onto my rights as tightly as I can.
But what does it cost me to
retain this right? Will I give it up for the sake of something larger? When I really think about it, my answer is yes, because I do believe that Christ’s lesson on forgiveness is one of the most powerful ideas ever to be unleashed on the world. There’s such beautiful symmetry to his teaching: what is kind to the other person is also kind to me. Forgiveness also means growing into something larger rather than staying cramped and crabbed in my own anger. I’ve experienced this phenomenon in my own life, in countless other contexts. It has to be true of road rudeness, too.
So I’m making on-the-road-forgiveness one of my New Year’s resolutions. I’m not expecting immediate success; believe me, I know how hard a mission I’ve accepted. But I’m hoping that if I test-drive it long enough, I’ll end up hooked. After all, I suspect there’s no better, more reliable vehicle of grace out there than the ready willingness to forgive