July 8, 2014
Just a few days ago I was filling my tank at the gas station, the kind with two parallel banks of pumps with two pumps each, and enough space for eight cars at a time. I was on the far outside of one bank with another car on the other side of this same bank. A man in a white car on the far outside of the other bank was just finishing filling his tank when another man pulled in towing a large boat behind an even larger pickup truck, and happened to be smoking a cigarette.
Everyone was outside of our cars when sparks started to fly. The man in the white car began yelling at the man with the boat to put his cigarette out. And, with his lit cigarette hanging loosely between his lips, the boat man thoroughly and completely ignored the yelling as it got louder and nastier, replete with extremely crude one-sided name calling. It was a fiery explosion of fury.
I felt a bit scared by this escalating outburst and got back into my car wondering what, if anything, I could do to help. Call the police, try to calmly intervene, or do nothing. I did nothing, when suddenly the irate man slammed his door shut, pealed out of the station squealing his tires and honking his horn at the precise moment the other man slowly, deliberately and silently put his cigarette out.
This is a perfect illustration of last week’s discussion of the teaching of the Two Arrows. To recap, the Two Arrows teaches that the everyday difficulties and challenges of living a life are akin to being shot by an arrow. We all get shot and it hurts. But how we react or respond to this pain determines whether or not we shoot the second arrow, or the third, fourth or the fifth. And this in turn determines whether or not we manage our pain and difficulty skillfully or spread it around like a contagious infection.
Who knows what was going on with these men. The anger and fear underlying the one man’s outburst were probably about a lot more than a man smoking at a gas station. And what about the silent arrows shot by the smoking man’s stubbornness? Both shot a whole quiver of arrows.
Here’s an excerpt from a beautifully poignant short story by Alethea Black.
You, on a Good Day
“You don’t give the finger to the black pickup truck that tailgates and passes you aggressively, then let go of the wheel to give it two fingers when you see a rainbow-tinted peace sticker on the bumper. You do not call the friend – the one who was in the hospital a few weeks ago, and whom you did not visit or call – you do not call her today because today you need something from her. You do not consider dousing your refrigerator with gasoline and setting it on fire because of the sound its motor makes while you’re trying to work…You do not conjure up, in as vivid detail as possible, every time anyone has ever wronged you in any way…You do not wish that your hairdresser would stop talking about her near-death experience and start focusing on what she’s doing with the scissors. You do not care more about your bangs than you do about the life of a sister human…
“You do not, you do not, you do not…
“Not on this day. On this day, you wake up and remember the sight of your four-year-old nephew aiming all of his fire trucks at the television during the coverage of the California wildfires because he wanted to help. On this day, you think about the afternoon you heard a famous poet thoughtfully, gently, lovingly answer a deranged question from an audience member who was mentally ill. On this day, you think about the day the woman in the ATM vestibule heard you crying on the customer service phone because you’d pushed the wrong button and you needed access to that money right away because that check was all the money you had and she had reached into her wallet and handed you a twenty. On this day, you remember Anne Frank’s little scribbled words – or, you don’t so much remember them as you see them floating before your eyes because you’ve got them taped to your wall on a scrap of paper – It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
There’s much more to this story. To read it in its entirety, you can order it from One Story, one-story.org.