The other day I made my first venture out of the house alone with Elijah. Doug was home with the big kids and I needed to buy a hairdryer so I decided to make the trip to Target. I am not a shopper. I will do almost anything rather than shop, but I really needed the hairdryer so I loaded the baby into the van and away we went.
When I got to the parking lot, I made my best guess as to how close I could get to the entrance and still find a spot, and turned down the aisle to look. I saw that there were a few spots available toward the end so I decided this was close enough to the entrance and I would take the first open spot. When I got to that first space to my right, I put on my blinker and slowed to a stop. It was at this point that I spotted the nice white Cadillac with the older gentleman driving. He had just driven into the spot opposite mine from the next parking aisle over, and I realized that perhaps he was cutting through to position himself for my parking space.
Not wanting to be rude and presume that the spot was mine, especially if he had gone to the effort to position himself so nicely to drive straight into it, I looked at him, pointed to the spot and then at him, inquiring if he was waiting for it. He proceeded to throw his hands up in the air and yell and curse at me telling me to just get out of his way. I backed up to let him through and he tore out of there, still yelling and gesturing wildly.
Doug will often remind me of the cost I don’t pay for living here (and one that he does): having to drive regularly in L.A. That afternoon at Target I realized how true that is. That man’s capacity for anger simply terrified me. But what also terrified me was how his anger triggered so much of my own. “Stop yelling at me!” I remember screaming at him from inside my van. I felt assaulted by his rage, and kicked into a totally defensive posture. I thought later of the words of Jesus: “Bless those who curse you.” I certainly did not.
Part of what was so offensive about this man’s reaction was that I had been acting with his interest in mind. I have had lots of parking spots taken from me here; spots that I had waited for, signaled for, whatever. People in L.A. are pros at the no-eye-contact-I’ll-just-act-like-I-never-saw-you thing, and this has always been maddening. So it is ironic that by actually stopping to make sure that another person did not have dibs on a space, I incurred more wrath than I likely would have if I had stolen someone’s. I realized that my little parking lot incident is a great illustration for what it feels like to be misunderstood: to have good intentions taken wrongly. I think that is why his anger flipped my own anger switch so quickly. It is a good reminder to me of how I react in other arenas of my life when something I do or say is misunderstood. It is far too easy to go down the path of anger, and to feel perfectly justified for doing it. But to what end.
Driving home, I was struck by the general insanity of L.A. driving. And having spent so much of this past year house-bound and disabled, I realized that my driving callouses are gone and I feel vulnerable. As I was traveling down Jefferson, I saw ahead of me a group of high school kids waiting to jet across the busy street as soon as a break in traffic appeared. They waited for the three vehicles in front of me to pass, but for whatever reason decided that they would try to make a run for it in front of me. This resulted in my having to slam on the brakes as two of them stepped out in front of my oncoming vehicle. They immediately all looked at me to see how the white lady in the minivan would react. I smiled and made a gesture with my hand for them to go ahead. Disarmed, they smiled back and crossed the street.