Monday, November 25, 2013

Virtue: missing the bus

The Lemon Girl and I have lost track of how long we have been living without a car now. It is seven or eight years I think. Doing so has reintroduced me to experiences that I had long ago and now get to experience again. One of these is missing the bus.

And I get to see others miss the bus too. You see them come running towards the stop as the bus you are on is pulling away. Or running as it approaches the stop. Sometimes the bus driver sees them and is willing to stop and other times not. It's not hard to imagine what they are going through. It's a big effort they are making and something is always riding on it, if you'll pardon the expression.

Last week, we had a rental car because there were errands that needed to get done. I got into old habits of taking things a bit easier and, when the car was returned,  found myself missing a few buses. And there I'd be, looking at my phone to see the time and when the next bus was due and realizing I might not or would not be on time for my appointment.

Putting it like that makes it dispassionate and that is very different from how I actually reacted. What really happened was a combination of anger and helplessness. The moral question is: How am I going to take it? Because I cannot simply master myself at that moment. It is long-established habit that determines how I react. If I routinely allow myself to get angry at frustrations such as missing the bus, I lose the ability to control myself in such situations. (The words "ethics" and "morals" both originally meant "habits".)

Moral question? Yeah! It seems like too much to expect that anyone would get morally wrapped up in such a minor thing. Who cares? And why should anyone care? And yet it is bad for me to let my emotions run over when I miss the bus.

I know, it seems so harmless to just let myself vent a bit. After all, I did miss the bus and this is an inconvenience, why shouldn't I be allowed my little temper tantrum. But why did I expect that I should catch the bus? I expected it because that is the mindset the temper tantrum creates. We convince ourselves that we are having the temper tantrum because something we hoped for didn't work out. In fact, the temper tantrum creates a sense of entitlement in me that wasn't there before I lost my temper. A moment before I was a guy working to achieve some end and now I am standing at the stop swearing at a receding bus as if it was to blame. Worse, I'm making it a habit to lose self control rather than build it up. And, just in general terms, there is lots of evidence that losing my temper is bad for my physical health.
That divine power of his has freely bestowed on us everything necessary for a life of genuine piety, through knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power. By virtue of them he has bestowed on us the great and precious things he promised, so that through these you who have fled a world corrupted by lust might become sharers of the divine nature.
That's from the second letter of Peter and it's in the Office of Readings for today. What could be more full of lust than me screaming with self righteous indignation at a bus that I somehow have come to believe I was entitled to catch. I didn't think that as I was getting ready that morning. I kept looking at the clock as I got dressed to go. I was making efforts to catch the bus. And yet, in the short run up the sidewalk to the stop, I somehow threw all that effort away and replaced it with an anger that drove me to a sense that I deserved to catch that bus and that it was the fault of not me but something outside me that I was missing it.

Peter continues:
This is reason enough for you to make every effort to undergird your virtue with faith, your discernment with virtue, and your self-control with discernment; this self-control, in turn, should lead to perseverance, and perseverance to piety, and piety to care for your brother, and care for your brother, to love.

Qualities like these, made increasingly your own, are by no means ineffectual; they bear fruit in true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Any man who lacks these qualities is shortsighted to the point of blindness. He forgets the cleansing of his long-past sins.
I'd humbly suggested that there is no more easily accessibly accessible image of what that sort of blindness looks like than the person who gets angry when they miss the bus.

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