After teaching my last yoga class for the week, I turned off everything and locked up the studio for the night.
Humming contentedly to myself, I headed to the parking lot, anticipating a much-needed two days of rest at home. Rest for my body, which does a whole lot of yoga and, more importantly, rest for my mind, which teaches a whole lot of yoga.
I got myself settled in the car, backed out, and drove toward the street. I was gleeful with the idea of all the self-care I was going to attend to.
An unrushed bath.
A pedicure for my calloused feet and chipped toenails.
Maybe even a massage for the neck spasms I’d been dealing with all week…
It took me a full two to three seconds to realize another car had hit me. That doesn’t sound long, but trust me, it was.
As I was driving out of the parking lot, a man backed into me with what felt like more horsepower than you would’ve thought his 20-year-old car could muster, much less while in reverse. I just sat there, feeling all the calm seep out of me, like the remains of dinner being rinsed off dishes and sliding down the drain. In a flash, I saw my plan for relaxation being snatched from me as though it were an actual object in my arms.
“Nope, sorry, our mistake, but that big basket of rest wasn’t for you after all. Go on now. Have a nice day.”
In an instant, I saw all the work I was going to have to do now: calling insurance companies, getting a rental car, making more phone calls, having an adjuster come to look at the car, towing the car to the shop, making more phone calls…
I felt pouty.
I wanted to cry to someone older than me, someone in charge, like a teacher on the playground, “He hit me and I didn’t do anything! I was just standing here!” I needed someone to take over and make this right.
And, I had just gotten my car back from the dealership for its big girl oil change and tire rotation, and they had even washed it for me. It was so clean…
I finally came out of my lengthy soliloquy and pulled the car over and out of the way. (I told you it was a really long two to three seconds.) I took a couple of calming, restoring breaths and told myself it didn’t matter. I wasn’t injured. It was just a car. Everything would be okay. I felt calmer.
That didn’t last long.
Because the other guy flung open his door and said, “What? Did you not see me?”
If I had fur on the back of my neck, it would’ve stood up. I was so mad. Did I not see him? “Oh, sure I saw you, but I thought, hey, why stop the car, let’s just mix things up a bit and see how much damage this will do?” No. No, you idiot, I did not see you, because I was already completely behind you when you backed up into me.
And so I asked him, “Did you not see me!?” I could feel all my defenses firing, wanting to prove my innocence and, of even greater importance, his undeniable guilt. His absolute and utter wrongness.
I threw in a quiet and sulky, “I had the right of way.” And then, because there was no teacher to tattle to, I decided to just be quiet. What was done was done. We exchanged information, and then parted, but not before he asked me yet again if I hadn’t seen him. God.
On my way home I discovered that my car wouldn’t go over 40 mph, the dashboard skid control light was flashing at me, and my steering wheel was now centered toward about 10 o’clock. Once home, I gave the car a thorough once-over, found that my front passenger door wouldn’t open, the wheel well was pressing into my front tire, and the whole right side of the car was dented and scraped from front to back.
Did I mention that it had just been washed?
I came into the house getting madder and more frustrated by the minute. I was minding my own business and now I have all this stress and stuff to take care of and it’s not fair!
But, as I started ruminating and obsessing on the details and building a hell of a grievance story in my head to tell anyone who would hold still long enough to listen, words from Pema Chödrön popped into my head, quite unbidden. A quote I’ve used often in yoga class:
“If we open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”
Ohmygod, Pema, not right now. He hit me!
But, I sat down, and I forced myself to take some deep breaths. To slow down and surrender just a little bit, and listen to Pema’s disembodied voice.
And I realized, she was right.
Life is frustrating.
In the exasperating minutiae of every day.
This guy backing into me in the parking lot. The alarm company having to come to my house three times this week to fix the security system (three times!). The guy behind me in the grocery store emptying his cart onto the conveyor belt before I finished putting my groceries on the belt so that all our groceries wound up fraternizing on the belt together, mixed and confused. The restaurant I placed an online order with charging my credit card twice and still not putting in my order. The package I’ve been waiting on never making it to my house.
Go through your week, or even day. How many people drove you crazy? Probably more than you can count.
But, if we allow it, all these things and people can teach us the greatest lesson of all: compassion.
Did the man who hit me mean to hurt me? Of course not. That wasn’t how he wanted his day to go. When someone hits you with their car, or cuts you off, or runs a red light, or can’t fix your alarm system the first two times, or puts his groceries on top of yours, or delivers your package to the wrong house, or messes up your dinner order, we could be really angry and judge them harshly, or we could have compassion and realize we have no idea exactly what they’re dealing with in their lives at this moment.
Maybe the guy that hit me had gotten some bad news. Maybe he’d lost his job. Maybe he had a bad headache. Maybe he’s suffering from something that is affecting his cognitive skills or his reflexes. Maybe…anything. The point is I don’t know what caused his actions, but I do know he didn’t mean to.
Maybe the slow woman in front of me at the store is distracted because she’s worried about her daughter’s chemotherapy treatment and wishes she were there with her.
Maybe the guy fixing my alarm system hasn’t slept in ages because of his autistic son who roams the house at night.
Maybe the woman who cut me off in traffic had a screaming newborn in the back of her car and she was frazzled.
We all deal with a lot of stuff.
And maybe, sometimes, people are simply jerks.
But, even then, you still have to ask the question: why?
What made this person, who started life as a perfect little baby and innocent child, turn into an angry, destructive, or negative person? We don’t know anything about another person’s baggage or history.
We don’t know if their basic needs were met in childhood and if they were loved and made to feel safe, or if they suffered abuse or neglect. We don’t know what they’re going through at this moment in time. We don’t know what their path has been.
But whatever they’ve been through that got them to this point—maybe we could have compassion for that as well.
If we stop and look for the lesson in every irritating situation, and from every person that drives us crazy, we’ll find it easily. It’s always right there.
Let that be a lesson to us all.
Author: Amy Bradley
Image: Patrick Humphries/ Flickr
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Copy Editor: Leah Sugerman
Social Editor: Sara Kärpänen