Love and Anger in Traffic

Recently I started pretending that everyone else in the rush hour is a living creature like me. What if they were all as complex and sensitive as I 1? What was I doing up before that?: Looking at the hard edges of cars, the hard surface ahead, and the fastest route.

I was aggressively defending my way. The defensive attitude has consequences. If anger can be seen as self-assertion and boundary protection 2, then self-assertion and boundary protection may induce anger. This has been my experience. When I saw a video online of a woman ranting in road rage, I was surprised that the comments said how crazy she must be. I saw myself in her.

My moment of self-identification.

Being wrapped up in the road ahead, in MY WAY, and the obstructions to MY WAY had a glorious narcotic glow. Owning the road enlarged my self of myself. My haste made the present moment urgent and hot. My compulsion for punctuality made my greed virtuous: “I have an appointment. I don’t want MY FRIEND to have to wait”. The appointments or friends of others were only cameos in my story. Like henchmen in a martial arts movie, they only existed to be dismissed serially and en masse. While anger can be an uncomfortable emotion, the sense of justified rage is intoxicating.

I could argue that one justification for aggression is the physical danger of cycling amongst hazards. And from an evolutionary perspective it is true that an outburst of anger may provide an energy spike or a social warning to avert collision. But it seems equally true that an unrecognised wave of inner rigorousness SEEKS the obstacle to release the rage. In other words, the event isn’t releasing the my anger; I am loaded with anger in search of an event to justify it’s release, and a person to punish. Given the chaotic ballet of the roads, a target can soon be found.

The impetus to change wasn’t my anger, but its after story. A pleasurable explosion of rage was left behind by the time and energy spent checking and rechecking my justifications. In my insecurity I would drag other people into the story, “So, I was coming up to the junction and… “. Was it all worth it? So began my experiment with kindness. I was tired of carrying the trivial injustices of imperfect beings 3.

The results have surprised me. I leave the house looking for people, not hard objects. I assume that they are like me; those people in the cars, those people walking. I assume that their business is as important to them as mine is to me. Suddenly, it’s not MY way. It’s OUR way, and WE are all sharing it, as WE all have somewhere to go. These people, they share the street with me. How kind of them 4.

There are still dangers. But as I am not not so busy owning the street, I am not so aggressively seeking them out. And as I recognise other people, I recognise their journey, and make way for them. And when rage rises in me, I am more aware of MY rage, and the benefit for me in letting it pass. Thank you for sharing the road with me. I hope you get there safe.

Love and Death

I have been playing with my death recently. Actually, it has been playing with me. Now I am in my fifties, and it’s a step less romantic, more chilly. Anyway: it’s coming.

Hodler, ‘Die Nacht’, 1889–1890

One of my responses to dying is fear. I would like some security against it. Or a lively distraction. Unfortunately, I can’t think of what I would like to horde until then. And I can’t think of what I can collect that might give retrospective satisfaction: “THIS is what I spent my life doing”.

When I give up on the fear, and give up on collecting, another impulse arises and in a language new and awkward to me; to spend the present moment of the rest of my life, giving love and care to myself and whomever I am with 1 . That impulse feels right. It feels like the right intention for every moment, and the best resolution to look back on.

Until this point, my thought walk a straight road, but then two voices appear;

One voice is delighted,

“Finally, Desmond! Love and care! I can’t wait!” This voice sings Hallelujah like a gospel choir. In character it’s like a Labrador seeing the coat going on, about to go on a walk.

The other voice is very slick.

It says, “Well! Desmond! Love and care, eh? That’s hardly been your specialty, has it?” It’s a more bitchy, feline voice.

The first voice, while it brings great joy, is also uncomfortable 2. It is not ‘me’. Or at least not my familiar me. I can keep the voice alive, like bouncing a balloon on my hand but without attention it falls into the other voice.

The other voice I dislike. But I find it very comfortable 3. When this voice has taken over, I feel regret after a guest has left, “Why did I spend so long arguing a point that doesn’t matter?“

The metaphor of the balloon isn’t satisfying, implying constant effort to keep an unstable mood afloat. There is also a pun about gravity: love and care aren’t grave enough. Couldn’t love and care be a plant,  growing under good conditions? Like Blake’s sunflower, “Who countest the steps of the Sun” 4.

As long death as is an appeal to love, it isn’t an appeal to fear.