Have you read William Carlos Williams' (1883-1963) short story, "A Use of Force"? Williams was a medical doctor who specialized in pediatrics in Rutherford, New Jersey and who also maintained a highly successful writing career. In this particular story, he seems to address that hidden facet of human behavior, violence, that lies dormant until the appropriate circumstances bring it out. In brief, during a house visit a doctor feels forced open the mouth of a defiant little girl in order to diagnose diphtheria. Naturally, it is expected that a doctor would do everything in his power to save the patient from further pain and perhaps death; however, he honestly reveals his thoughts during the situation. Since Williams is a doctor and the fictional story is about a doctor's experience, the reader starts thinking that the story is true, which makes it all the more impacting. When the girl stubbornly refuses to open her mouth and physically prevents the examination, the narrator-doctor reveals the following confessional thoughts, " But the worst of it was that I too had got beyond reason. I could have torn the child apart in my own fury and enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to attack her. My face was burning with it." You may wonder, is the doctor a bad person? I think, no, anger is the real culprit.
I'm working my way over to this morning's traffic jam, or tapon as it is commonly called in Puerto Rico. Some people are angry. Some good people are terribly angry. This anger causes them to pull out of the lane, pass on the emergency lane and then enter the lane again a bit further down the road. This impulsively impatient behavior causes other drivers who are suffering from the "I'm late and I'm not going to take it anymore" syndrome, to repeat the offence. Horns blow. Hand's fly heavenward with oxymoronic intention. Road Rage. It's pure and simple. I bought a CD, Road Sage by Sylvia Boorstein, to listen to while driving. It provides mindfulness techniques for drivers, which I have yet to successfully share with my carpool buddy. I'm sure that it is helpful. It's just that the information on breathing and focusing and such, is not what people are drawn to do in congested traffic situations. Besides, if you meditate, you probably already practice mindfulness or another focus technique during traffic jams. If you don't have a practice, it's difficult to learn (or want to learn) while under rage's grip. How can I share this information? At other more peaceful driving times, it's just not a compelling CD listen. Anti-rage instruction or the radio? Hummm...which to choose? I have hit load and play in an attempt to give Silvia a fighting chance only to be assaulted by a chorus of moans and cries, especially from the back seats, "Mommmmm." What can I do?
I may have misrepresented the situation, after all, this is Puerto Rico, La Isla del Encanto. This beautiful island of enchantment has an interesting mix of cultural behaviors. One driver may be enraged but several others are applying eye makeup, adjusting their carefully groomed hair, dialing a phone number... or sending a text message, stopping in the traffic lane to buy a La Hora newspaper, pink or blue cotton candy, avocados, or dripping wet bottled water. Or dropping a passenger off, especially if you are near a school. Or maybe the driver is turning around to talk with the person in the back, or reaching over to the glove compartment and so on. Maybe a motor scooter will speedily drive between and around the slow cars or, conversely, a distressingly sick person will be negotiating a wheelchair between the lanes, pausing at car windows with a lifted paper cup. The point being that it is quite common for the waiting drivers to be highly distracted. Sometimes drivers are patient, beyond patient- it's true- even when the hold up is caused by those who are adapting to the traffic jam as with the preceding attention diverting strategies. At other times, the entire congested beehive bursts open and many suffer the stinging consequences of an accident (fender-bender) and the resulting interminable wait for the police to arrive in order to make an accident report. It makes me think about why we are able to control ourselves under great stress sometimes, while at other times we completely lose it. Anger is the boss. To be or not to be-angry- that is the question. I read a most helpful monk's behavior principle to be practice while on retreat. I think it's helpful during traffic jams or any other type of anger provoking situation. It is: "Do not complete your anger." The way I interpret the meaning of this tenant is that even when you feel angry, at some point you will recognize your state, and that is when you have the opportunity to let go, to not complete or follow through with angry intentions, angry words, angry thoughts. Maybe you could visualize El Yunque (pictured here in free downloads) and see yourself sitting next to the waterfall while enjoying a peaceful picnic.
Bill Nighy (pronounced as Bill Nye -like the science guy-2007)
Photo: William Carlos Williams 1926 from linked site.