Conscience Jolted and Yet No Apology

I’ve maintained for a long time that men need to hold each other accountable, at least to a certain degree. A few months ago I was on the receiving end of some firm advice and since then I’ve taken the time to digest the experience.

It was a late Saturday afternoon–gray and overcast, the roads still shiny after a light drizzle–and my wife and I were making a last second trip to the grocery store.

When I signaled to enter into the left hand turn lane, a weathered, aquamarine Toyota Echo darted across three lanes, forcing me to brake hard to avoid a collision. I could have stopped, but the maneuver slowed me down to about 30 km/hour. So, in total disregard of my wife’s protests, I zipped around the beat up compact and made the left-hand turn.

Appearances, especially during moments of indiscretion, can definitely be deceiving. When the car had cut me off, I assumed the vehicle was being driven by either an old lady or a teenager. I mean, who else pulls out in front of you and reduces their speed like that?

Well, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was to find out his identity soon enough. When I was weaving my way through the parking lot looking for some prime real estate, my wife pointed out we were being followed. Now that I was aware of this, I chose the closest available parking spot to the store. The Echo didn’t park, but stopped behind me with the engine still running.

In my rearview mirror, I watched an absolute brute open the passenger side door and stand there looming at the edge of my bumper. He looked apprehensive, unsure of who he was confronting, but determined to make his point.

“He’s waiting to talk to you,” my wife said, disgusted and embarrassed.

Slowly, I undid my seatbelt, opened the car door, and calmly walked over to discuss the incident.

In such a moment, it’s amazing how resignation can be so calming. As I approached the man, I could tell he was a hardworking blue collar, and as I drew even closer to him and saw his face I could tell by the scars and harshness of his eyes that he had been in countless fights.

“Do you always cut people off?” he asked.

“No, I try not to,” I said.

“You cut my wife off,” he said, poking me hard in the chest.

“Get his license plate,” his wife said, her face visible in the open door. I could tell by the look in her eyes she was concerned that it was going to get ugly.

When you’re a man getting poked in the chest, regardless of the physical prowess of your provoker there’s a rush of adrenaline that kicks in. I could feel it flood over me, leaving my fingers and toes tingling. I started to wonder if I was going to have to defend myself.

“I’ll bury you,” he hissed, poking me hard in the chest again.

I figured there was no point in telling him that his wife cut me off first. Everything about his demeanor said he was looking for an excuse to snap.

People were walking by, and I could tell the confrontation was turning into a spectacle. I glanced over my shoulder and saw my wife still standing by the car. She was observing the encounter with little emotion on her face. In her opinion I was getting what I deserved.

But I wasn’t concerned about being embarrassed. I was certain the brute could hurt me badly, but I was thinking about the repercussions of getting into a skirmish in public that would certainly draw the attention of the authorities.

On the other hand, I was feeling contrite – especially seeing the woman driving the car absolutely mortified by her militant husband. But no apology left my lips. I don’t know if this was my way of fighting back – the calmness, the lack of remorse . . . But it certainly managed to irritate him.

“Are we through?” I asked, meeting his gaze. I had hoped he noticed the apology in my eyes.

He stepped out of my way and I walked toward the store as though the incident never occurred. Although I had lost sight of my wife, I knew she was nearby. While I looked around for her, I heard him screaming, “If you ever do something this again, I’ll bury you! I’ll bury you, you here me!”

I didn’t acknowledge this ostentatious temper tantrum in the slightest.

Finally, my wife appeared and joined me. Before we went it, we talked in the grocery store lobby. She seemed more shaken by the incident than me. In a sense, I found it almost comical, but I also felt bad.

When we were shopping for our groceries, we crossed paths with the couple several times and neither of us said a word. Now that the brute was calm, I wanted to apologize to both of them, but I was also reluctant.

He was right. I was wrong. I don’t think I cut them off badly, but I know my driving showed lack of respect and impatience. He cared enough about his wife to defend her against the slight. I can appreciate that.

For me, my Christianity is less about what I believe and more about what I embody. I fell short that day, and in hindsight I consider it to be providence that there was a man out there willing to help me find my humility.

Men should hold each other to a certain standard, but there’s no harsher judge than a conscience jolted out of its dormancy.

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