It was a trivial incident, really. Insignificant in the grand scale of things. I had just left the front door of our house, about ten o'clock at night, taking George the dog out for his last pee walk before bedtime. We live on a blind bend in the hills, a very narrow street, made more narrow by the customary row of parked cars, and I heard the aggressive roar of the engine before I saw its source--a large black SUV, taking the bend at inordinate speed. Caught in the headlights, I shook my head in a clear--but quiet, I thought, and non-threatening--sign of disapproval of the speed at which the vehicle was traveling. And was rewarded for my pains by a direct hit from a paper cup filled with ice cubes, hurled at me from the open window of the car as it roared on past.
Trivial, as I say. But I was shocked. The first reaction was a surge of belated fear. This guy--sorry, men, this was masculine driving; my general impression is that women drivers are aggressive in different ways than taking dangerous bends at a high rate of speed--this guy, I thought immediately, would have used a gun on me if he'd had one. Those drive-by shootings are common enough in the city, and surely, some of them, as senselessly provoked. Another surge of anger, easily noted and dismissed. And then sadness, that we humans are reduced to such pitiful instinctive behavior.
So I looked for the gift. I found myself thinking about the driver, the bad karma he must have been carrying with him as he drove, and of which he had certainly just acquired a little bit more. I had learned something from direct experience, I thought, about human nature, the quick resort to violence, the easy release of rising anger through instant action, the gratification of a fragile ego. I thought about that demented teenager in Omaha, Nebraska, who did have a gun available and who used it to devastating effect. The death of those men and women who were the victims of his unprovoked attack is a dreadful reminder of the essentially harmless banality of my own incident, but in principle it was no different. (Is it not disgraceful that we, in this country, apparently still lack the good sense and the will to keep lethal assault weapons out of the hands of even the mentally unstable and the criminally insane?)
And what about myself? Easy to learn about others, less easy to look into oneself and find the teaching there. However minimally, I had my own part in bringing about this explosion of petty rage. What little part of my own ego prompted that message I conveyed, that small, disapproving shake of the head that undoubtedly said: I'm your Daddy, I'm wiser and older than you, I look down upon you from the perch of my righteousness and offer you the benefit of my superior judgment. From a different viewpoint, from the driver's seat, jubilant with my own driving skills and daring, I look out at this judgmental old prick with his stupid little dog and, well... fuck him, right? Who's he to lecture me on my driving?
A trivial incident, yes. And, yes, I was right. The guy was driving like a maniac. His rage was evident in the way that he drove before I provoked it further. I have no need to reproach myself, nor to make the incident bigger than it was. Still, a little something was learned in this very small "gift wrapped in shit."
It's this kind of thing that I'm interested in exploring in "Accidental Dharma," soon to offer space for those teachings that reach us unexpectedly, in small ways--a paper cup, flung out of the darkness on a narrow hillside street--or, sometimes, in truly terrible, life-changing events like those Omaha killings. I'll be asking for stories from anyone who cares to examine the impact of these unanticipated life-lessons on their own consciousness and the way they conduct their lives. I hope that you'll join me. More to come on this topic, next week...