I was driving at the speed limit. The driver in the car behind me was tailgating. As the distance between cars diminished my breathing became shallow, my abdominal muscles grew taut and my mind screamed insults. It appeared that the other driver wanted me to increase my speed which was in conflict with my choice not to drive faster than the speed limit. I pulled to the side of the road. As I did so I noticed my body’s stress responses begin to relax.
This was at 6:00 am this morning. Workers across the street from my home had wakened me from a pleasant dream only fifteen minutes earlier. How dare they make those horrible noises so early in the morning.
I was driving to a public park for the sole purpose of starting my day with a modicum of serenity. And now I was sitting by the side of the road remembering a younger self who once thought it smart to tap the brakes when confronted by aggressive drivers following impatiently behind. And, I remembered that after several years of doing this that I eventually put my family in danger after such an event as the other driver chased us, gun in hand until I finally ran across a police car. After reporting the other driver who by now had successfully fled the scene, and after signing the tickets written by a police officer who was not impressed with my remedy for discouraging tailgaters, that I promised myself to find a better way to deal with aggressive drivers in the future.
The conflict that I described here was not as it seemed, between right and wrong ways of driving or between how to handle another driver. I was conflicted with how to best protect my inner self. There will always be demands by others on myself and my values. The scenario described in the previous paragraph appeared to between two people but it was not. The voices in my head come from my sense of right and wrong on the one hand and the eternal conflict between the self and the voice of society on the other. In my mind I heard the police officer, the judge; I remembered the fine and I remembered most of all, the fear as I fled from danger.
The only thing about that memory of fleeing the would-be assailant and the events preceding this chase that protects me from my desire to mentally flog myself is the memory of the necessity to protect my children. I had no fear of being harmed; I had to protect my family. There were no judgmental thoughts about the other driver; I was totally focused on protecting my family. When the chase was over and the officer had written his tickets, after signing these documents and after driving my family home; only then did I fully realize what I had done and only then was I able to understand that I must learn not to allow others to trigger the inner voices of discontent. And I knew that much of the rest of my life would be devoted to learning how to become a better me. And this was all that made it possible to forgive myself that day thirty years ago as I left City Hall, several hundred dollars poorer and with the judge’s voice replaying in my head. “Mr. Broom, your pride could have gotten you all killed”.