Thursday, October 17, 2002

I had a trifle to forgive this weekend—something petty and stupid, really, and not that big a deal, except for the expense of undoing the damage. Someone vandalized both of our cars, along with a number of others parked in the same area, knocking off the passenger side mirrors. Considering that the North Koreans want to nuke me, the Islamicists want to put me and my family to the sword, and some nut job is shooting up every place I lived and shopped in the DC area, this petty act seems pretty inconsequential.

But you certainly wouldn’t have thought I felt that way if you had heard me on Saturday morning when I found the damage. The morning started out wrong, and just as it seemed it might start to improve, I walked out to discover the crime. Imprecations and swear words to color the cheeks of a nautical type flowed freely—though at least in a mumbled tone, lest the 5-year-old’s surprisingly acute hearing gather them in.

After the initial violence of anger had calmed a bit, I worked hard at keeping the embers warm, until I realized that this is one of those things that I needed to forgive, or the vandalism of my property would become vandalism of my heart. “Fine. I forgive them!”

So later on I was talking to someone, who wanted to know why I was in a tizzy. “Some idiots vandalized my cars last night! Can you believe some jerks would do that?” I replied. That still, small voice in the back of my head kept pushing the intercom button, but I ignored it. The sympathy of my friend (who lives nearby and so began to wonder about his own car) was like a bellows across a dying fire. “Put the still, small voice on hold. I’ll get back to Him later!” I told my internal secretary. “I can’t,” she replied. “He says it’s urgent.” “Fine, I’ll take it in the other room. Listen, Ben, I’ll have to call you back.”

* * *

So the not very great moral of the story is pretty obvious at this point. Merely saying “I forgive them!” means very little if I don’t consciously discipline my mind to adopt a spirit of forgiveness. Deleting angry references in my internal monologue to “Idiots” “Jerks” “Chuckleheads” and certain participles I’m unwilling to commit to the blog helped a lot. Finding a kind person at the Ford Dealership, who gave me a discount on the part for one car (the original cost he quoted is about 10% of the book value of the ancient Escort) helped as well—as did my realization that I could do the install myself. But what worked best was asking for the grace and help to get over it. The realization that I had to do something and am not wired in such a way as to make doing it a solo project was a very liberating one.

The violence to my car was a sin and a crime, a deliberate, wrong act. If the actors are identified, I would expect restitution or insist on punishment before the law. I honestly believe that those are the merciful and charitable things to do, if the villains are to learn to amend their ways. So, “What,” you may ask, “is the result of your forgiveness?” A fair question. 1) I no longer relish the many creative ways in which I imagined myself doing violence to their persons. This is significant. 2) I no longer wander around disparaging their parentage. 3) I could speak to them personally, without anger or malice, but objectively. They did in fact commit a crime, and walking away from that crime would not serve them or Justice. But I have given back to them power only over themselves, no longer over me. So long as I nurtured an anger (especially an anger out of all proportion to the wrong) towards them, I allowed them to go on harming me from afar.


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