Ever had to take a “chewing” from an officer, a sergeant, a physician, a boss, or a spouse, and stand there like a statue and take it? Some of my practice manager friends may be able to relate. You know, that time when you did nothing wrong but got blamed publicly, possibly humiliated, and you had to just take it with a smile and a “Yes Sir/Ma’am”? Boy, that is a great feeling right?
God help the person that doesn’t have the authority to “chew us out” that tries such a stunt! They might go home with a pain in their hind side or a sore nose, or worse, right?
But, what happens when you get the chewing and the person chewing on you not only has no authority to chew, but still manages to keep you in a position to do nothing about said chewing? This is rare I realize, but it happened to me recently and I learned a great deal about myself as a result of the experience.
I traveled to Birmingham, Alabama not long ago for a business meeting at a hospital. I arrived in plenty of time and was in no rush as I entered the line to the parking garage. In front of me, getting their parking ticket, was a white pickup truck with a big bumper sticker on the back proudly stating “Jesus loves you, but I am his favorite”. I thought to myself, now that is a cute bumper sticker as I passed through the ticketing station myself and followed the pickup through the levels of the parking garage at around three miles per hour. On any other day I would be chewing on my steering wheel in frustration because of the traffic but on this day, I honestly was in no hurry so I crawled along with the rest of the vehicles.
On the third of seven levels in the garage, the pickup in front of me pulled over slightly to the right in front of one of the clinic entrances and stopped. I assumed they were letting someone out and peeked around them to see if there was any oncoming traffic. There was none, so I eased around them on the left to continue looking for a spot to park. As I neared the front of their vehicle I noticed the pickup roll forward a bit, so I had to speed up to five miles per hour or so to get by. This did not make my pickup driving friends very happy. All at once, I heard their horn blaring and thought to myself, “Well, I may have misjudged that move.” I thought little of it and moved on along the parking lot, ending up on the seventh floor before finding a place to park.
I got my car centered in the space and began to prepare for my meeting when I noticed a white pickup pulling in to my right. The driver pulled up and then back several times in order to insure that my passenger door had no chance of being used. Again, I thought little of it and continued with my work. A moment later I heard a sharp tapping on my driver’s side window. To my surprise, a very elderly gentleman, (I estimated around 80 years old or older) using a cane, was attempting to gain my attention. As I looked out at him I noticed that he wore a hat promoting Jesus and had a large wooden cross pinned to his left shirt pocket. I rolled down my window and said “Yes Sir, may I help you?” That was the last word I got in for about three minutes.
For the next few minutes the gentleman, in his own cherub like way, proclaimed to me, and the world, that I was, beyond doubt…. An idiot. Yes folks, he was very certain of it. He spent the next few minutes pacing in front of my door, back and forth, breathlessly informing me that I was an idiot, a real idiot, and nothing but an idiot. The poor guy was so worked up that I couldn’t say a word if I wanted to do so.
I did try to apologize, numerous times. I think it was between “You’re an idiot” number one and “You’re an idiot” number three that I injected a “Sir, I am sorry, but I promise I didn’t mean to upset you. It was an honest misjudgment on my part.” He didn’t’ hear a word of it. “Just admit it!” he screamed. “You’re an idiot!”
Now be honest. If you were in this situation, what would you do? I can be honest. If it had been a younger man, no matter if I was wrong or not, I would not have taken such a verbal assault with no response. I certainly wouldn’t have been pleading with him to accept my apology. Most likely, (I am being honest here) he would have gotten a shot at kicking my rear end. With me, although I consider myself to be a nice guy and very patient, there is a point where I say to myself, “It is worth it if I get the snot beat out of me, but this guy won’t walk away unscathed.” I did not say it would be the best reaction, but I am being honest.
How many times have we been in traffic and had someone cut us off and treat us poorly? How many times have we had that person on the phone yelling at us with what I call “Maw Bell courage” (it is kind of like a courageous drunk without the smell), thinking they can speak to us any way they want because we can’t get our hands around their necks?
We usually won’t take it. Generally, a person has a line they have drawn in their mind of just how far they will let an assault go. It seems to me that in recent years, that line is crossed with little effort on the part of the offender as we as a society have become so easily offended. But, who am I to preach? My line is as near to the offender as anyone else’s line might be. “How dare you look at me a certain way!” “How dare you go faster than me in traffic!” “How dare you not say thank you when I hold the door open for you!”
And, “How dare you call me an idiot whether or not my action seemed idiotic to you or not!”
The shock from my encounter had me on my heels. I sat in the car a bit longer listening to the gentleman’s insults. I noticed a lady, (his daughter, about my age) walk past the back of my car. The gentleman had just stepped back and yelled at me again demanding I admit I was an idiot. That was my chance. I had had enough. I opened my door and in one step was standing face to face with him. At about that same instant I heard his daughter say “Come on Daddy, he’s not worth it.”
Talk about a slap to the face! She didn’t know me and neither did he. But, she assumed that “Daddy” was about to get what we all would expect he would get.
I said, “Sir, if you will take a breath, please!” I continued quickly as he started moving away, “Sir, I am honestly sorry. I meant no harm and completely misjudged what you were doing. I thought you were letting someone out of your vehicle. I had no idea, but I do apologize.” “And” I added, “I love your hat.”
“You’re an idiot.” “Come on Daddy”, “He’s an idiot!”, “Yes Daddy, he is.”
As they walked away I said “Sir, I am truly sorry, and Ma’am I apologize to you too.” In a huff, they disappeared around the corner of the parking lot. I sat down in my car, shaking too bad to hold a pen, much less write anything legible. But, I grabbed my pen and notepad and scribbled down a few lines apologizing again and stating that I hope they have a safe trip home. I left the note on their windshield and wobbled in to my meeting, shaken, still on time.
There was something about that cross that haunted me. I could not be “me” or “let my flesh take charge” in this case. Something about it made me take the chewing as if I was outranked by this guy. I had no idea of who he was or where his life had taken him, but for some reason I could not find it in my heart to give him what I thought he deserved. One thing was for sure, the incident would have me frustrated and angry for the rest of the day. I knew that for sure.
After I left my meeting and walked down the long hall back to the parking lot, a thought came to my mind. “How many generals, colonels, sergeants, supervisors, bosses, have yelled at me and been entirely disrespectful to me over the span of my life? How many of those people never heard a word from me in my defense? Most, if not all, simply heard, “Yes Sir/Ma’am.” That was it. I just dealt with it and moved on, angry, resentful, and scarred. If I did speak up and give them a piece of my mind, I can’t remember a time when it worked out well for me.
Another thought came to mind shortly after the first. “If that man crosses my path again I can either put him in his place (get revenge) or I can just go on as if nothing happened (be resentful and hurt). Both of those choices will produce the same result, I will be miserable.”
Then it seemed as if a wiser question was asked of me. “But what if there is another choice?” I thought. It seemed as if God was telling me to try it a different way, even though I felt that I was “right”. “What if you were genuinely humble?” “What if it did not matter who was right or wrong but you just took this one for the team knowing that one of my children deserves your respect without explanation?” “Sure,” I thought. The chance of me seeing the man again was very slim anyway.
Wouldn’t you know it? In the parking lot, as I approached my car and looked at the white pickup truck sitting next to it, guess who was in the driver seat? You guessed it. My cherub friend. The note was still on the window.
I walked around and tapped on his glass. His daughter was still inside the building and the passenger seat was empty. As he rolled down the window I reached over and took the note and handed it to him. “Sir, I just wanted to ask you if you were ever in the military or in the service in any way.” He replied “Fire Department.” I asked, “Sir, have you ever had the Chief chew you out and you just had to stand there and take it?” “Yeah” he answered.
“Well Sir, that is where I am today. I just wanted to tell you one more time that I am truly sorry and that it was my fault. I honestly never intended to upset you.” I added, “Sir that hat you wear and that cross on your shirt mean you outrank me and you deserve my respect and my apology. Please be safe today and know that I am honestly sorry for any inconvenience.”
He looked up at me and said “I am so sorry I talked to you that way.” I realized that I truly had no idea of what this man was dealing with in his life and that I may have reacted the same way he did being placed in the exact same situation. It was then that I noticed a little lady sitting in the back seat of the truck, just grinning at me like a Cheshire cat but not saying a word. It was his wife. She had witnessed the entire event and apparently it was resolved with her approval. I am a little nervous about what she said to him when I walked away, but I know if it was Ms. Toni, I would have had to listen to her laugh at how God “fixed my wagon” all the way home.
The incident didn’t bother me a bit for the rest of that day, which is truly rare for me. I hope it didn’t bother him either. I hope that he saw God take an Irishman who wanted to do one thing, and made him do the complete opposite, all because of the rank the gentleman wore on his chest. The cross made him the highest general in the land for that moment in time. He deserved a little respect and he deserved to be given the benefit of the doubt and yes, he deserved an apology.
It didn’t hurt me one bit. As a matter of fact, it warmed my heart. I wonder if it was God’s voice I heard as I walked back to my car. You be the judge. I am good with the result regardless.
He is King of Kings & Lord of Lords.