My wife is a better person than I am. An overall better human being. I know this because about a month ago, we were wrapping up a family walk on Christmas Eve when a black minivan appeared, blasting through a stop sign the driver seemed to believe was suggestion-only.
My wife and daughter had safely crossed the road while my son and I were slightly behind and still in the process of crossing. Upon seeing us, you’d think the driver would slow down. You’d think wrong. Plus, I think you know where this essay is going. The driver sped up. I told my son to hurry and cross the road.
As I made my way onto the shoulder, the driver flew by me, inches away, and glared in my direction as if to say, “What are you doing crossing the road while I’m driving on it? This road was designed for me and only me.”
I met the driver’s eye contact and held it so they’d remember my face for all eternity.
Like many people who understand you can’t let every little thing in the world bother you on a daily basis, I shrug off the majority of irksome happenings. As a parent, however, that’s a different story altogether. If you do something I feel is endangering my child’s safety, Houston, we have a problem.
In Buddhist teachings exists the Tale of the Two Arrows. The parable is found in the “Sallatha Sutta,” part of the Majjhima Nikaya, a collection of discourses attributed to the Buddha. It is said that when an untrained person experiences pain — physical, emotional, or psychological — it is like being struck with two arrows.
The first arrow represents our initial experience. From an emotional or psychological standpoint, this means feeling wronged by someone’s actions. The second arrow symbolizes our subsequent reactions to the initial experience. It could be in the form of anger, resentment, or rumination as we replay the incident over and over in our mind.
As someone with anxiety, I’m a card carrying member of The Rumination Club. My immediate default, if I’m being honest, swiftly moves to vengeful thinking. I blame this on biological evolution and not me being a terrible person. My brain thinks I’m dealing with saber toothed tigers and it’s in game-planning mode to protect me and my family from razor sharp claws and seven to eight inch long teeth.
I don’t feel this makes me any less a practitioner than having monkey mind when I meditate. My brain goes there — its default setting. My ruminating thoughts of vengeance are not of the violent kind. It’s more playful, think: a fiction writer crafting out a scene in an action-adventure thriller.
Which brings me to the ‘Tire Spike Strip’ Philosophy.
I feel in the core of my being that walkers, runners, and cyclists should be allowed a legal right bestowed upon us to throw down one tire spike strip every year. We get but one so we have to be selective as to when the time is right. The purpose isn’t to inflict injury. It’s simply meant to puncture and deflate all four tires of a maniacal driver’s vehicle within 30 seconds. That way they think twice about driving like a reckless idiot the next time they set foot behind the wheel.
When I told Allison my ingenious plan, one that should be lobbied before the state legislature, the conversation went something like this:
Me: …and that’s how these types of incidents should be handled.
Allison: My brain doesn’t even go there. I’d just like to say something to the person is all so they know what they are doing.
Me: // Steps atop soapbox // People like that want you to say something. They thrive on someone saying something. They want nothing more than you to say something so they can say something back. They know what they are doing. They just don’t care because they believe the world revolves around them and anything in their way is a nuisance. They suffer from a bloated ego. What they need is a physical reminder. Nothing that causes injury, of course; just a reminder in physical form i.e. a tire spike strip timed perfectly that deflates all four tires as they pass by driving like a fool.
Allison: // speechless, in what I can only presume is her conversion to my ingenious plan //
Let it be known I don’t own any tire spike strips nor will I be purchasing one from Amazon. I haven’t looked to see if Amazon sells any but my guess is the answer is yes. I would never lay out a tire spike strip on the road for an unsuspecting reckless driver. The only way I would do this is if it were written into law and a proclamation was henceforth sent out (legislators say words like “henceforth” in their bills) and all reckless drivers the Commonwealth over were aware that if they drove like a maniac in the vicinity of a walker, runner, or cyclist, they may want to have a tow truck on speed dial.
There are a lot of trails where I live. They weave throughout the neighborhood for miles and miles. It was a selling point for me when my wife and I chose to live here. Almost everyone who walks in our community walks the paved trails by default. My family tends to walk the paved trails up to a point — the point where a nature trail begins.
We’re a dirt trail full of leaves and roots kind of family. Sidewalks and paved trails are like collared button-ups and polos. We don’t wear collared shirts. We wear t-shirts.
In order to get to some of the nature trails, you have to jump off the paved trail and cross the road. Because of the network of walking trails here, the majority of drivers are polite and cautious to the walkers and runners they see. I want to emphasize this point: the majority of drivers are polite and cautious.
I want to emphasize another point: there’s always a small percentage of a-holes who ruin it. This goes for everywhere in life: school, work, even sports. As David Foster Wallace wrote in Consider the Lobster:
It never once occurs to him, though, that the reason he’s so unhappy is that he’s an a-hole.David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster
Those who get annoyed with pedestrians here aren’t typically following the posted speed limit in the first place. They are going 10-15 MPH faster. The difference between crossing a road when someone is going 25-35 MPH versus 45-55 MPH is significant. When they fly around the corner without first stopping at that octagonal red thing with a wooden pole holding it upright and bold capital letters in white proclaiming STOP called a, wait for it: stop sign, it’s even more significant.
My wife is a school counselor by profession. By nature, she’s a good listener and an understanding person. She helps kids work through difficult feelings and emotions five days a week for the entirety of a school year.
Unlike the back of my mind which plots hypothetical revenge scenarios — nothing too egregious I may add — my wife’s brain doesn’t go there. In having this conversation with Allison about a state law being created allowing for runners, walkers, and cyclists to lay down one tire spike strip annually, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a neighbor years ago.
Back when my kids were younger, around the ages of 4 and 6, a neighbor of mine — an older dad whose kids had all since gone off to college — said to me one afternoon:
You should get Henry to kick a ball out in front of their car when they come flying down the road. There’s no sense in them driving so fast on a street with young kids playing.My wise but always plotting neighbor who is also a dad
He said this in response to another neighbor who lived at the end of the cul de sac that treated the length of our street like a personal drag racing strip. She’d just driven by while we stood facing one another talking from our respective yards.
While I agreed the speed at which they drove was entirely too fast on our street, I said, “I’ve thought about it. My luck is they’d swerve to miss the ball and run into a tree or something.”
“I can see that,” he said. “Well, a man can dream.”
That’s when I realized my neighbor’s wife was probably a better person than him just as my wife is a better human being than me. In The Art of War, an ancient Chinese military treatise written by Sun Tzu, the famed strategist said:
All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Which got me thinking:
- Do women’s brains go to the same places as men’s but they don’t verbalize their thoughts outwardly as we do, or
- Is this solely a guy thing in which we run through scenarios in our heads on a continuous basis no matter the time of day, then we say them aloud and our significant other is like, “What the hell? Who are you?”
Is the better half in a marriage always the wife?
Are there any exceptions? I couldn’t see my Granny Pillow thinking up vengeful scenarios. She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever known in my life. Technically, I couldn’t see my Papa Pillow either but maybe he had a dark side. My Granny Hamlett, however, I could see that. She’s not alive anymore but I don’t think she’d disagree. She was a tough cookie and didn’t take any mess.
My sister Jennifer has mellowed considerably since becoming a mom, but I’d put money on her brain thinking in similar ways as mine even if she doesn’t say them out loud anymore. Maybe it’s the Hamlett gene and instead of two arrows headed our way, we’ve got a calvary of archers letting it fly.
But until it can be proven otherwise, it is determined that at least in our household, my wife is a far better person than I am. Case in point: the ‘Tire Spike Strip’ philosophy.
How about you: are you a better human being than your spouse or is it the other way around and is clear as day?
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