Have you ever been driving somewhere, and you see a sign in big flashing letters that unmistakably says MERGE RIGHT. LEFT LANE CLOSED AHEAD.
Being the good reader that you are, you take this to mean that the left lane is closed ahead. You merge right because you know that no left lane will preclude driving in the left lane. You are astute like that.
Then you, along with the other good readers, spend the next 30 minutes painfully inching forward in the right lane for the next mile where the left lane actually ceases to exist. And as you approach the point where the left lane ends you are united with those who did not merge right a mile back and now insist that you let them in.
And are you like me in that some days your tendency is to look straight ahead and pretend that you don’t see them? And maybe you keep the front end of your car so close to the back end of the car ahead that even a gnat couldn’t pass between? Or maybe you are even brazen enough to look over at them and give them the “Ain’t no way buddy!” look. You maybe even say to yourself, “That’s no fair! Get in line and inch up like the rest of us! Who do you think you are??”
Now that I’m older and have a slightly better grip on what is important in life, I’ll usually just wave one or two in front of me and go on my merry way, because the stress of teaching the world a lesson while behind the wheel of a car is just not worth it. But sometimes, it’s just one of those days and I can’t stop myself, and I allow myself to falsely believe that they will change their me-first-lane-cutting ways and the world will be a better place for all concerned if I don’t let them get away with it.
But that never happens.
Those days when I just have to right the traffic wrongs, I never move along feeling better about myself. I never feel like I made my little slice of the world a better place. In fact just the opposite. Sometimes a win is not really a win.
A while back, we had an exceptionally spring like day in the middle of the winter and Sean and I were hanging out at the park. Sean was on the swing, not really swinging, but just kind of sitting and twisting in the sunshine. A neighbor showed up with his little grandson who is about four and as is typical of four-year-olds, he wanted the swing Sean was on. Being four, he did not say, “Pardon me sir, if you’re not going to swing, may I?” No. Being four, he tugged at the chains and said something like, “I want to swing.”
To this, Sean responded by digging in his proverbial heels. He gripped the chains tighter and sat as immovable as Mount Rushmore and gave the four-year-old the “Ain’t no way buddy!” look, which was painfully all too familiar. He was going to teach that four-year-old a lesson – you can’t just cut in on the swing!
I really wanted Sean to voluntarily give up the swing for three reasons. One, I want Sean to have a good heart, one that loves to give and serve. Two, I want Sean to experience how good it feels when you respond with kindness where it is not necessarily warranted or likely to be reciprocated. And three, and I am cringing as I write this in naked honesty, I wanted my neighbor to think I was an awesome parent.
But at the same time, I didn’t want to force Sean to give up the swing. Embarrassment is never an effective teacher in my opinion. As expected, Sean soon grew weary of the little boy tugging at the swing, so he got off and we headed home to sit on the front steps and watch the world go by.
I took that opportunity to try to tell him how sometimes when you win, you don’t really win, knowing that this is a lesson he will have to learn on his own over and over throughout his life.
“I know you probably don’t understand this just yet, but you could have given up the swing to that little boy and it wouldn’t have cost you a thing. And you could have looked really big in the eyes of that little boy and his grandpa,” I said, “And bonus, when you do something like that, you get to feel good about yourself.”
He didn’t respond to that. I could tell he was giving it skeptical consideration or trying to figure out how to get off the subject.
“What if you give up something that does cost you?” he asked.
Good question. Crickets chirped as I tried to think of something I had given up lately that had cost me something and couldn’t come up with one thing.
“I guess then you get to look big in the eyes of God,” I said slowly, more to myself than to him, wondering what in the heck just happened here. I thought I was supposed to be the teacher.
Sometimes, the teacher is the student and learning is more about the questions than the answers.