Early in my journalism career I spent two weeks in New York City, first at a conference, then working with Religion News Service as free help while staff there oriented me to religion news writing beyond my Baptist perspective.
After the first week, I thought, “This is great. I love New York. It’s never dark, never quiet and never stops.” By the end of the second week, I was silently screaming, “Get me out of here. It’s never dark, never quiet and never stops!”
But it was a broadening experience for a small town guy in his mid-twenties, trying to navigate concrete canyons instead of cornfields. During the first week my group attended a live performance of Shakespeare in the Park. A sudden rainstorm cut the performance short, so during the second week, when I was on my own, I went back to Central Park to pick up the play to the end.
My biggest fear as a New York novice was getting onto the wrong train and ending up in a part of the city where I didn’t belong and not knowing how to get back to where I did belong. I studied the train schedule as best I could understand it and knew that the play would end just about the time the train I needed would be leaving the nearest station.
So while the final curtain was still fluttering down, I left my seat and raced through the park, to the train station. Much to my palpable relief, the train was there, idling at the station with the doors open, and the engineer sitting by an open window, his arm resting on the sill.
To be certain I wouldn’t jump onto the train to nowhere, I ran up to him and asked, “Does this train stop on 68th Street?”
He said, “Yes it does.”
Then he shut the doors, and drove off, leaving me on the platform, instantly affirming every bad thing I’d heard about New Yorkers.
Do you think he somehow didn’t know the intent of my question? Do you think he didn’t know that I did, in fact, want to go to 68th Street and wasn’t just inquiring about the train’s route?
I still can’t comprehend the engineer’s actions, but they gave me a great story to share that night when the slow movers from Central Park congregated on the platform, waiting for the next train.
There was no reason for me to get incensed. I was simply dumbfounded. I couldn’t chase the train and clamber onto the back car. I couldn’t shout or curse or wave my arms in anger and effect any change. I’d simply wait for the next train.
I’m continually amazed at the level of anger in everyday life in our society. The smallest things set someone off and lead to fisticuffs or worse – a simple urge to merge into traffic by an accomplished high school girl prompts the man in the truck next to her to shoot her dead.
Road rage? Give the car some space people. What does it cost you? Relax.
Cycling with my group two years ago we met a woman on a horse. She was riding in the ditch to our left, coming toward us. When we met her, the horse reared up. I admired her control of the animal.
Twenty minutes later a car roared up behind us. The driver pulled sharply in front of our group and slammed onto the brakes. Two riders hit the car, then the pavement. I was in front, but avoided it.
The driver was the woman who had been on the horse and she leaped out of the car, practically foaming at the mouth with anger. She said we had intentionally spooked her horse, and then rode on, not stopping to help.
Somehow she had gotten the horse back to the barn, gotten into her car and tracked us down through several turns, while managing to maintain her white hot anger that prompted her to break the law and endanger herself, eight cyclists and whoever might have approached us on the road.
I don’t understand that level of anger. I basically don’t understand anger at all. I can be disappointed, frustrated and wish things were different. But anger is a foreign emotion.
Unresolved anger leads to ill health and to dramatic actions with horrible consequences.
Take a breath. Realize that next year at this time it won’t matter…probably in the next hour it won’t matter. Smile. Give the guy the benefit of the doubt. Assume good intentions.
Just don’t get on a train in New York City if you don’t know where it’s going.