The other day I was driving home from the grocery store, waiting to turn at a red light when a maroon car blew through the intersection and began to tailgate the car in front of it which was moving along at the speed limit. The driver in the maroon car became exasperated, waving his arms and making rude gestures, until he finally swerved into the other lane and zoomed past the “offending” car.
As I watched this scene unfold I thought to myself, “What is the matter with people?” The driver in the other car hadn’t been doing anything wrong, except apparently getting in this man’s way. Sadly, I had seen a similar scene unfold on Thanksgiving morning when a woman driver did much the same thing to the person in front of her. Just a little reminder of the prevalence of road rage these days.
The funny thing is as I sat at the intersection that day, pondering the sad state of humanity and shaking my head at this man, a story came to mind. The story is from the Sufi tradition and is commonly called The Dervish in the Ditch. It goes a little something like this.
Once there was a Dervish holy man who was walking along the road with his student. The holy man heard a sound and turned around to see a large chariot barreling toward them. It was clear that the chariot could see them, and yet it made no attempt to avoid hitting them; in fact, it was coming straight for them. At the last minute, the holy man and his student jumped into a ditch and narrowly avoided being run over. After they had climbed out of the ditch and dusted themselves off, the holy man looked up the road and called after the chariot, “May all your deepest desires come true!” His student turned to him in shock and said, “What?! How can you wish that their deepest desires come true? They nearly killed us!” The holy man looked at his student and said, “Perhaps if their deepest desires were to come true, they would feel no need to run people like you and I off the road.”
As I thought about the story, instead of feeling anger toward the exasperated driver, I found myself feeling compassion. When someone treats us, or others, unkindly, our gut reaction is to pay them back in kind. Exchange a few terse words or hand signals or race them down the road to make our point. How difficult it is for us to pay them back with a blessing! And yet, this is what so many of the great wisdom traditions of the world teach us to do.
When someone is unkind or hurtful to us, perhaps rather than going with our gut, we should stop and speak a blessing over them. Not only will it catch them off guard and possibly disarm them, it will help us to remember that perhaps the person’s anger or unkindness has a deeper root that we cannot see. A root that potentially comes from a place of profound unhappiness or woundedness. For as my dear friend and pastor used to say, “Hurt people hurt people.”
There is enough hurt in the world already. We don’t need to add to it. I’m thankful for the way that a story came to my mind that day to teach me that lesson and remind me that there is a better way. I hope that when put in a situation in which I am the “victim” and not just the observer, that I will have the grace to put that story’s lesson into practice.