Sunday, April 27, 2008


Social experts caution that there is a seemingly geometrical rise in popular anger, manifested in every facet of modern life: from road rage to political polarization, from crazed terrorists to American torture; and it is often ascribed to impediments, obstacles to desired goals, such as an urban driver simply trying to get across congestion to the other side of town, to the frustration in dealing with ideological myopia of the other political side, to the impossibility to eradicate economic deprivation and the resultant political impotence felt by underdeveloped countries, to America's frustration in capturing and punishing Osama bin Laden. Rage is seen as the bi-product of thwarted goals.

But, instead of ascribing anger and rage to blockages and obstacles in our personal and political goals, perhaps we should see overreaching goals themselves as the culprit. The increase in personal and political rage is more a product of the unreasonable heightening of our desires: too many drivers simply "having" to make too many trips across town rather than enjoying the fruits of their own neighborhoods and back yards; political parties wanting too desperately to win, to dominate, rather than sharing a series of bipartisan compromises, and underdeveloped countries wanting it all NOW, while developing countries seem intent on keeping it all for themselves.

Ratchet down our goals, and we perhaps ratchet down our rage. Jimmy Carter called it adjusting to an era of limitations.

I remember telling an angry and frustrated student of mine, who was raging about his "not getting there", moving on more quickly in his career, to 'cool it', to relax. I told him that there really is only one place we're all going to get to; and that is the grave. To illustrate, I told him a story.

Many years ago, I was in the mountaintown of Truchas, NM, hustling about doing research on a film I eventually was able to write and direct. I was stressed, running about, trying to maximize my research while minimizing the length--and cost--of my trip. I stopped for a moment at the grocery store along the main road. I purchased a ham and cheese sandwich and a bottle of coke. As I exited the store, and sat on a log in front of the store, I noticed an old local sitting in a grassy field across the two lane highway in front of the store. He seemed to be gesturing me to join him. After looking about to make sure he was gesturing to no one else, I crossed the highway and approached him. He nodded for me to sit down, offered me a portion of his lunch, which his wife had prepared for him. I accepted gratefully, shared my coke with him. Seated a few feet away from him, I noticed his age. He was at least in his late eighties. The eyes twinkled. His breathing was deep and full, lines of his face were not creases, but canyons carved by wide rivers of life. He said to me: "Do you see that tree over there?" He was referring to a beautiful old oak, with flourishing leaves and a trunk as twisted and majestically proud as his body. I said "Yes." He said, "When I die, they are going to bury me under that tree." After a pause, as he stared at the perspiration staining my shirt and flowing from my forehead and down my cheeks, he said: "Do you know what that means?" He paused, more for effect than because he thought I had an answer.He continued: "That means for the rest of my life I am only going to travel twenty yards. I am going to go slow, relax, enjoy every blade of grass and small flower along the way." He bit into his sandwich and turned away. A small breeze came up the canyon, and wafted across us, me in particular. My taste buds came magically alive. The ham and cheese was pungent in my mouth, the coke was bubbly and fresh to my throat. His wife's vegetable salad was like nothing I had ever tasted before. I lingered with the old man for about an hour. I finally left, unhurredly, and continued my research.


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