The driver seemed upset.
Well, that's a major understatement. Infuriated would be a better word choice. It was an intense case of road rage.
If the driver had been given the opportunity, I am fairly certain he would have eaten me alive and perhaps even swallowed me whole.
The night of the "road rage incident" happened recently. My friend and I were driving through Rochester. The roads were filled with heavy slush, and it was snowing. To avoid a small accident that had occurred, I moved into the left lane. A few moments later, I heard some honking. Continuous honking.
"What's that about?" my friend asked.
"I'm not sure. But I don't think it could be anyone honking at me. What would there be to honk about?"
We proceeded. The honking returned. I moved carefully back into the right lane. The honking continued. Louder. Longer. Honking and honking and more honking. Eventually, the honker sped by and shared a gesture with his finger that I do not generally interpret as a sign of affection.
"Why was he so mad?" I wondered. Immediately attempting to justify the behavior, I came up with a clear explanation. "He was probably honking to let me know one of my lights is out! That's it! Just a person trying to be helpful." I found a side street and pulled over. My friend jumped out of the car to check the lights.
"Looks like they're all working," he said.
"Oh." How disappointing. Generally in situations such as that one, I spontaneously burst into tears. The thought that I caused someone anger for an unknown reason is too much to handle. But I think I must be moving past that stage in life, because I didn't cry. Instead I said a prayer for the driver to feel peace.
Maybe he was honking at me for driving too slow on the slippery roads. Or perhaps it was something about the color of my vehicle that he found annoying. More likely, the driver wasn't really mad at me. He was probably honking at life. Sometimes anger comes out that way. Like a long, irrational honk-fest.
When I'm really mad, it comes out in tears and bad dreams. Maybe when you are upset it is expressed in sarcasm and mean words. Or too much ice cream. Perhaps an intense need to be alone.
It would be great if we lived in a world where no one ever got irrationally angry. But we don't live in that world. We live here, in a place where people do get mad and sometimes unintentionally take it out on a pastor driving through town in the middle of snowstorm.
I get upset for no clear reason at times, too. We all do. So a helpful word here is grace. We can show people some grace. A heaping measure of kindness and compassion. We can shower people with patience regardless of whether we think they deserve it. We can let things go and not internalize the actions and attitudes of others.
There are times in life when people honk at us and we don't know why. It might be a literal honk in a parking ramp. Or a rude comment in the break room. Or a passive-aggressive email sent at 4:59 p.m. Or a grudge that's been around since before the Internet.
In those moments, we have options. Dwell on the honk and get really upset. Talk to the person in a mature, direct way. Or just let it go. Different situations call for different responses.
However we opt to deal with irrational honks along the road of life, it's always good to keep a prayer and some extra patience ready in the glovebox.
The Lady Pastor is a weekly column by Emily Carson, a Lutheran pastor in Stewartville. Visit her blog at: www.emilyannecarson.com.