There was a road closed on my route to work this morning, about 40 minutes into my 50 minute drive to the office. There was a detour sign that pointed into a circuitous suburban development. Well, the detour turned out not to be a detour. Instead, I cruised past dozens of little boxes for about 5 minutes and ended up right back where I had entered the neighborhood. I’ve noticed that well-executed detours are rare as hell. One of many possible metaphors between driving and life.
And, the thing is, I don’t know any other way to get to my office. I’ve worked there 6 months and I don’t know any other way to get there. One road is closed and the office might as well be in outer space. So I put on the GPS, head out of the burbs, back on the highway, to the interstate, GPS is rerouting every step of the way telling me to turn around and go back toward the road closure. I have to keep driving away from my destination to persuade Google Maps that there is no other option but to find an alternate route. (If you are aware of a better way accomplish this than driving away, please feel free to leave a comment). Frustrated as hell, I put on my most soothing music, the soundtrack to the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Once More with Feeling.”
It’s bumper to bumper, but it’s okay because I’m singing along to Anya telling Xander his eyes are beady. And I see the billboard that says: Real Christians love their enemies.
I am not a Christian, so that was my first reaction—“Don’t tell me what to believe, Billboard!” But I really can’t argue with the sentiment. In Practicing Peace in Times of War, Pema Chodron writes,
To the degree that each of us is dedicated to wanting there to be peace in the world, then we have to take responsibility when our own hearts and minds harden and close. We have to be brave enough to soften what is rigid, to find the soft spot and play with it. We have to have that kind of courage and take that kind of responsibility. That’s the true practice of peace.
My godfather gave me that book when it came out back in 2006, and it’s full of really challenging little gems like that one that continue to badger me despite my cynical efforts not to engage emotionally with my enemies. Today, on my detour, I was thinking about my loathed boss when I saw that billboard. And I thought to myself, “No, not today. That dude’s a dick. I cannot and will not love him. I refuse. We can’t keep forgiving these people, they’ll just keep walking all over us.” And I did not give it another thought.
I went for a jog tonight after work—my third jog in about a year, and I’m still a smoker so it just about killed me. The moon must be full tonight, or very near. It was still light outside and the moon was out, brilliantly round and sharp and white. Like a true millennial, I tried to take a picture of it with my phone, even though I know that taking a picture of the moon with your phone is, at our current stage of handheld technological advancement, futile.
Despite how this photo looks, I’m here to tell you that moon was beautiful. It made me think that whenever I don’t like a photo of myself, I should remember the moon. Ours is a beauty so bright and aloof, it’s difficult to capture.
I’m really not sure why—although I’m sure it was partly due to the endorphins my central nervous system was pumping to the receptors in my brain to dampen the pain signals being simultaneously telegraphed to my lungs and limbs—but I felt real softness toward my douchebag boss at that moment. Maybe something about perspective and how even the most beautiful things look pointless and blurry under the wrong circumstances? It was definitely not the result of the responsibility-taking and courage that Chodron urges. But I still think it’s worth paying attention to the moments when your heart does soften even momentarily, even involuntarily, towards a loathed enemy.