Covering My Fear
I blew my horn at a man today. Yes, a strong blast of indignation. He deserved it—I strongly felt—for swerving around me even before I was at the end of the ramp. Why, if I hadn’t seen his lights—large and encroaching in my rear view mirror—I would have merged sideways into him causing a large crash of metal and glass. Then what would have happened to his haste? Yes, I blew my horn; a sharp toot of rebuke.
He sped off into the dark apparently unfazed by my protest. His tail lights became dots that blended into the traffic well ahead of me. I imagined what he must look like: a dark, brooding man with thin lips, bent on rushing to work and ill with the world. “He’ll end up in an accident,” I predicted. Yes, by the time I pass him again he’ll be in the ditch, crumpled and smoking. I wished for a speed trap to foil his angry heart. In fact, I had a string of thoughts about him.
Then, glancing at my speedometer, I eased up my irritated foot. Then, noticing my heart rate, I eased up on my irritation. I’d been pronouncing curses upon the man, sticking verbal pins in his car and envisioning his demise.
Hurling curses onto another will work you up. But I don’t think it’s good for you. I was fatigued from a mere five minutes. I could have gotten a ticket myself. And I had a bad taste in my mouth.
It isn’t easy slowing down irritation. Sometimes, when someone scares me like that, the anger will last all day. I come home and kick the dog. Well, I don’t have a dog so I am sarcastic or complain. By that time, I don’t remember the man with the thin lips, but I’ve become the man with thin lips. No, it isn’t easy slowing down irritation.
I think something else is at play. I think something is underneath, driving my irritation: I think I am afraid. The swerving, reckless man scared me. But since I don’t like admitting fear I cover it with anger.
For a moment there on the ramp, for a split second when my mirror filled with headlights and I felt the slow, sick tug on my steering wheel, I didn’t know if it would be enough. For a split second, I wasn’t in control of my commute. I wasn’t in control at all. I was naked. And so I hid.
I covered myself with indignation and irritation, and for good measure I covered him with curses. And that anger felt better than nakedness. But it doesn’t last long, so you have to keep it up. You have to stay irritated and keep finding reasons for your indignation. So you end up driving fast and cutting people off all because someone cut you off and frightened you. Maybe someone cut this man off at Exit 42 so he cut me off at Exit 23. How far down 77 would the domino effect go? How far into my day? How far in my life?
Maybe it would be better to pull off and admit I’m afraid.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both with individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean and they have seven children and nine grandchildren.