Road Rage and Repentance

Driving other day, down a busy city street, one which I drive once, twice, sometimes three times a day—scanning a block or two ahead for double-parkers, changing lanes to dodge left-hand-turners and get away from slow-pokes—I had an epiphany. A manifestation. A showing. It wasn’t pretty.

An SUV rode on my tail. I called the SUV by name—that is, by a certain seven-letter anatomical term, even as I felt the pleasure of making it through the a signal turned yellow while watching the SUV get stopped by the red. Gotcha!

I actually said it aloud. And then, not even a block later, the SUV zipped past me on the left. Didn’t the driver see the double-parked UPS truck ahead? Guess not, but I did. And I’d be damned if I was going to let the SUV sneak back over at the last minute, the way more and more drivers do these days.

What is it about San Francisco? In my early driving days, some thirty years ago, drivers waited until it was their turn; vehicles filed in order—left, right, left, right, from two lanes into one; cars pulled over for sirens. No more. Is the dot-com boom to blame? Skyrocketing housing prices? Too many cars?

Don’t let him in. I said that aloud, too, to the Toyota in front of me, although the Toyota couldn’t hear me. But the driver did let the SUV in, and I made a face, shook my head in annoyance. Jerk.

And then I saw it. Or rather, I saw myself. What was going on here?

I consider myself—and have been termed—a kind person. I don’t blare loud music or vitriolic talk radio. I pray daily. I cultivate calm. And here I was, adrenaline surging, cursing some stranger in another vehicle. And I wasn’t even in a rush. Or having a bad day. Just on my way to the store.

What would have happened, I wondered, if I had let the SUV in the left lane cut in front of me? What might have opened up, not just in front of my car, but inside of me?

Sometimes I need to be shown something more than once. So, a day or two later, I found myself cursing a car again—this time using an epithet I wouldn’t have uttered even in elementary school. But I did. And this was after a relaxing swim, too!

I had three floors of the parking garage to descend, and the whole time I had a blue van in front of me, its brake lights glowing. The driver would come to a stop at each bend as the garage declined another level. What’s the problem? I beseeched. Come on!

I’d seen the van driver getting out of the elevator: a dark-haired young man with a middle-aged couple (his parents?). Now I found myself imagining what had brought them to a garage used by not only members of my gym but researchers and physicians affiliated with a major medical center. Patients, too. I thought of a friend of mine who’s particularly jumpy around cars, because she was almost hit by one in high school.

Had this young man survived an automobile accident in the past? That would explain his cautious manner behind the wheel, I thought. Perhaps today was the first day he’d driven since the accident.

I imagined myself next to him, in the passenger seat of the van. “You’re doing great,” I’d say. And, noticing the impatient woman in the gray Honda behind us, “Pay her no mind. Don’t let her bother you.” And maybe I’d even think of her (of me!) as not-so-nice.

I felt compassion. My impatience sailed away. I didn’t mind the slow descent. Who’d ever want to take a parking garage at more than ten miles an hour anyway?

Seeing the beast within us is never a pretty sight. And it rarely turns us overnight into gentle giants, or even patient drivers. In these two cases, though, it got me thinking how far my behavior had slid from words once prayed over and for me.

Those words aren’t just for Sunday mornings or weddings or quiet times of prayer, alone behind closed doors. They’re for driving down city streets, too, and descending parking garages.

Words such as these, from the Rite of Holy Baptism: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? And these, prayed over C and me after our marriage: Make their lives together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.

I didn’t like seeing myself as such an impatient rhymes-with-witch. But I am grateful for the reminder, however bracing, to live into the words I profess.

I will, with God’s help.
Amen.

About Lindsey Crittenden

Lindsey Crittenden is the author of The Water Will Hold You: A Skeptic Learns to Pray and The View from Below: Stories. Her essays, short fiction, and articles have appeared in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Image, Bellingham Review, The Best American Spiritual Writing, and other publications. She lives in San Francisco, where she teaches writing at UC Berkeley Extension. Her website is www.lindseycrittenden.com.


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