A small snarl up

Between our village and the nearby town there’s a narrow road on a small but steep hill, and towards the bottom of the hill there’s a road off, leading to an industrial estate, full of warehouses and car sales and the like. The turn from the narrow main road to the even narrower estate road is tight, and when you add into the scene the cars that are parked on both roads, there are times when we get a cluttered knot of traffic. People hereabouts are, for the most part, patient. We wait for each other, wave each other on, nod and smile and acknowledge, but there are exceptions. There are some who make driving a pain – who charge down narrow lanes as if they are motorways, their engines roaring “Here I come! Look out! It’s me! Me! Me! Me!”

So we are always ready for them.

As I came down that hill today I could see a small car, coming the other way, nervously poking its little nose around a parked van, and carrying on regardless of the fact that we had right of way, not him. But the car in front of me waited patiently, and I sat behind in no rush at all. The driver of the little car coming towards us was tiny, a tiny old man with a West Walian cloth cap on his wrinkled head, the sure sign of an ageing farmer. He was so small that he seemed to be looking through the steering wheel, not over it. And then a large lorry started to pull out of the road from the industrial estate and onto our road – and I do mean a LARGE lorry. One of those long high things with wheels in the middle as well as at both ends. Of course the turn was too tight for a one-try turn, and the lorry stopped, reversed a bit, and lumbered forward again, correcting its course. The little old farmer panicked. The lorry driver had seen him and was waiting for him to pass, but manouvering while he waited. There was loads of room for the farmer to nip past but that bloke wasn’t going to nip anywhere, any time soon. Panic doesn’t see what the rest of us see and the little car stopped dead, in the middle of the road. There he sat, waiting for… what? When you see a battered old Fiat 500, with a battered old driver, you know he’s not going to get from 0 to 60 in 8 seconds and all you can do is wish him well and wait.

The lorry driver beckoned, the car in front of me beckoned, the driver of the parked van waved an apology to everyone as he clambered back into his cab, and still the little car sat there. It seemed that the driver was as stalled as his car. Paralysed. Now there were two cars waiting behind him and another car behind me, and goodness knows how many vans waiting to come off the industrial estate. We waited. We could hear the grinding of gears and the little car seemed to lurch but somehow the wheels didn’t turn. What was he doing? Time passed. And then the driver of the huge pantechnicon monster opened his door and clambered out, jumping down the last few feet. A big strong man, he strode over to the little old banger and opened the driver’s door. The old man shrank, his hands fluttering. My heart was in my throat. What was going to happen? Should I jump out ready to pull this horribe bully of a man away? Could I do that without falling over? And then I saw that the lorry driver was laughing, shrugging, shaking his head… and finally the old man smiled…. I don’t know what they both said but after a minute the small car started up again, the lorry driver slammed the door and stood back, and the old man slowly crept through… the lorry driver gave him a wave, someone tooted, so I tooted, and the lorry driver clambered back into his cab. Everyone was smiling.

Ain’t that lovely? That old farmer will have tootled on home, a bit abashed maybe, but I’m sure he was smiling too. It could have been so different if impatience or anger had ruled the day and I sent a silent ‘thank you’ to the lorry man.

I’d just read an article about a chef who used to have a daily struggle with anger, or maybe I should call it fury. He would shout and scream at his juniors, and now admits that he had become a bully and was even ‘a little physical’ in the kitchen, but every night he would go home full of self-loathing and regret, perplexed about his rage, wondering where this well-spring of fury came from. He believes that it stemmed from his childhood, and maybe he’s right, but for me some of the explanation came in the next paragraph as he described his life, back in those days of anger; he worked an 80 hour week, in a busy kitchen, striving always to be better, to present one perfect plate of food after another, with a ten year plan in his head, and a family at home who had to manage – mostly- without him. No wonder he was angry – at himself for failing to reach the heights of success, at the food for not being always amazing, at his colleagues for not being everything he needed them to be, at clients for not appreciating him, at his body for being exhausted, at his mind for racing, for time racing past…. maybe even at his family for needing him. Wow. What a punishing life we create for ourselves when we think that we are right and the world is wrong, that we are entitled and noble and that everyone else is less. And what a different world it is when, like that lorry driver, we simply make room and time for each other.

Oh. Sorry. I’m slipping into Little House On The Prairie mode. Hang on, I’ll reset.

But that chef, and then that small traffic snarl-up made me think about anger. I grew up in an angry house and I know the harm it does but sometimes, if we’re deep in the forest, we can’t see the wood for the trees. The chef said “I would tell myself: ‘Tomorrow, I’m not going to do it’. And then I’d go back, and within an hour I would be furious. Those are some of the worst times of my life.” The good news is that now, after ‘many many hours of therapy’ he has lost his anger, and found peace and a balance in his life.

Now I’m thinking of an angry young man I know. He doesn’t seem angry at all – he smiles and calls a cheerful greeting, and he laughs a lot, but he is consumed with anger and frustration that his life and the world is not what he thinks they should be. He’s clever and confident, but he uses his life and energy to post diatribes on facebook and on media platforms and it doesn’t stop online – his anger spills over into his personal life and involves his neighbours. So what if he distresses people, he’s in the right, isn’t he? As I read about the chef I thought about his words ‘Those are some of the worst times of my life.” and I wonder if my young friend is living through the worst times of his life. And if so, who will help him? Will there be a friendly lorry driver for him?

Anger seems to be caused by others, but anger is always a part of self. Me. You. Anger springs from a sense that we are right, that we know best and should be heard, that we should be in control and if we were the world would be a better place, that we have a right to this place, or this time, or this outcome, that my schedule is most important, that you are the one who should reverse down the narrow lane, not me. That you should apologise to validate my rage. Anger is about my right to tell you that you are wrong and to tell you in such a way that you will conform. What’s the word I’m looking for? That’s it – anger is, at heart, simply a bully.

And anger is – wait for it – a sin.

The idea of sin is regarded with suspicion these days. It’s an archaic concept to some people, arbitrary rules that wash all the fun out of life. But the Ten Commandments aren’t there to punish us. They’re there to guide us away from the cliff edge, to save us from the mess we make when we follow our first thoughts, looking for instant unthinking gratification. If you think I’m wrong about sin, imagine a world where all the Ten Commandments are met – no one will betray you, steal from you, attack you and yours, no one will scheme against you because they are jealous, no boss will be unfair and no employee dishonest. Instead you will love and be loved, when you are in need you will be cared for and you will care for others, you will be honoured, you will have shelter and peace, and most of all you will know God.

That’s what a lorry driver, someone I will never meet, brought to my mind today.

And here’s some advice from the Bible, something I learned a long time ago through hard experience:

Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person,
    do not associate with one easily angered

Proverbs 22:24

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
James 1:19-20

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