dharma monkey

embrace the monkey

A lesson in compassion from behind the wheel


I left the house a bit later than usual this morning, and in a densely populated urban neighborhood, that often means congestion on the one-way streets that form a tight grid around the main arteries across my section of Washington, DC.

OK...this isn't my neighborhood, but this is a good illustration of what it feels like on some days!

OK…this isn’t my neighborhood, but this is a good illustration of what it feels like on some days!

After running a quick errand, I started heading toward the office, and as I turned onto a single-lane one-way street, I could see trouble ahead.  A vehicle was sitting in the middle of the narrow roadway with the engine in reverse, most likely trying to get the parking space that was four car-lengths behind it.  As other drivers tried to squeeze by, there was horn-honking, gesture-making and yelling by the impacted motorists.

I didn’t pay too much attention to the situation until I was within 10 feet or so of the car, at which point my mind kicked into auto pilot.  Muttering “Geez, stupid ________,” is my usual response, with the blank containing a handful of select adjectives or nouns.  Today, it was obvious that the driver was desperately holding out for that parking space, but didn’t have enough room to negotiate back to it without some clearance from the other cars.  I wasn’t in a big hurry, so I kept my mouth shut and focused my attention on getting past the obstacle, sending a few unpleasant thoughts in the direction of the person behind the wheel.

As I pulled by, however, I noticed the driver was an elderly man, dressed in a dark suit with a very wide tie and a sharp porkpie hat.  In the passenger seat was an elderly woman wearing a finely detailed off-white dress with lace gloves and a hat of her own.  I’m left to guess that the couple was on their way to the church or elementary school on the next block, perhaps for a funeral or a special classroom program.

If I had been in a hurry this morning, I would be just as guilty as those other drivers (though, admittedly, I have all but abandoned using my horn as a form of complaint during my commute).  But fortunately I wasn’t in a hurry, so I’m glad that I didn’t compound the frustration being felt by the charming elderly man and his wife, who were, in fact, infinitely lucky to find that parking space on a street packed with parked cars on either curb.

Few things are more effective in (re)awakening my own compassion than interactions or images of elderly people, as I am immediately reminded of my Grandma and my love for her.  This can instantly pull me out of a foul mood, or snap me back into the proper frame of mind when I’m in a patience-trying situation like the one above.  At a minimum, today’s experience is a reminder of the power of compassion practice: rather than thinking, “That driver is another me, and I am a version of them,” I thought, “That driver could be my grandmother; how would I want other people to respond?”

I don’t need to know who is behind the wheel of the other car, because it doesn’t matter.  What’s important is that I treat every person I encounter as if they were another’s loved one, or as if they were my loved one.  That’s the only way this crazy world is going to start getting any better.

Author: Sean

I am Sean, a writer/PR guy originally from the Rural South who grew up and settled down in Washington, D.C. My interests include local politics, Eastern philosophy, languages and reality television.

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