I got flicked off while driving recently. It was unwarranted, of course. It's always the other person's fault, right? I won't bore you with all the details, but I will share an epiphany I had later in the day.
"Everybody thinks of themselves as the protagonist in their own story." I am the hero; they are the enemy. I am right; they are wrong.
In my mind the man flicking me off was inconsiderate and ignorant. I'm sure he had a few choice words for me, too, as he signaled his finger to the sky.
I smiled really big in the rear view mirror, waved, and gave him a thumbs up. Don't think I'm the nice one, though. I've been alive long enough to know that you tick people off more when you remain calm during their tirade. I didn't get down in the mud with him, and his face turned the color of the Roll Tide flag flapping on the side of his truck.
I'm not a scream-and-yell type person. That doesn't make me any better. I'm sure sometimes it would actually be helpful for me to be less passive aggressive and more expressive.
I remember being a sixth grader when your identify could largely be shaped by insecurities and the insults of others. I remember one kid in particular that made it his mission for a while to put me down and elevate himself in front of others.
I wasn't the fighting type, but I would have my justice. I brooded, I observed, then I saw my opportunity. I noticed at lunch he always zipped his trash back up in his lunchbox, and then he would carry that lunch box to gym class right after. While waiting to leave gym class the lunchbox always sat off to the side facedown.
While he and his cronies weren't looking, I unzipped the lunchbox but left it facedown. When the bell rang to go to the next period, he snatched it up, only to fling trash all over the gym. I smiled and walked away in silent victory.
Was it really victory, though? Was I really the protagonist? What if I told you I learned later in life this boy's father was completely absent? From what I came to understand, he was. I'm not going to speculate about all the details, but I know enough to know there was a real source to his pain and the resulting bullying.
Lacie and I debrief our days most evenings: the best parts, the worst parts, the challenges, the victories. Sometimes the challenges come in the form of individuals. This person said this to me, that person did this to me.
I wondered the other day how many end-of-the-day conversations have my name in them. "Chase hurt my feelings. He said this. He did that." I know it's happened.
It is a sobering reminder to acknowledge we might be the antagonist in someone else's story. Without even realizing it, we sometimes operate from a position of pain or struggle. We lash out. We are inconsiderate. Yet we move along thinking we're the developing protagonist.
I heard a phrase recently I'm trying to condition myself to bring to mind when I encounter any difficult person: "The image of God in me greets the image of God in you."
To the road-raging man who flicked me off: the image of God in me greets the image of God in you. To the sixth-grade bully who embarrassed and humiliated me: the image of God in me greets the image of God in you. To my worst enemy: the image of God in me greets the image of God in you.
It's easy to move quickly through this life with little time to reflect, so I invite you to ask yourself these questions as we enter a new week, a new month, maybe even a completely new season of life for some:
For more on this topic, see previous post: The hero and the enemy.