Friday, March 25, 2005

Civil Breakdown

Living in New York City is a wonderful experience. It can also be highly stressful.

I've noticed from time to time a dearth of civility in our society, and that can be particularly pronounced in a densely populated place like the Big Apple. I try to live my life as a New Yorker in a way consistent with my beliefs as a Latter-day Saint. Treating others with decency, kindness, respect and forgiveness is the right thing to do, even when people are in your face most waking hours. It's also the practical thing to do. Politeness and civility usually beget politeness and civility.

Which is why I feel like such a huge hypocrite.

Keri and I went to the circus today at Madison Square Garden with the girls and some friends. Because we planned to go to New Jersey right after the circus, we decided to drive into Manhattan and park about halfway between the Garden and the Lincoln Tunnel for a quick getaway.

(I should pause here to write that one of the best ways to ensure survival in the big city is to avoid situations that create stress. Driving in to the city on a holiday and parking at a random lot on the west side was not our best move.)

We parked in the first safe and reasonable looking lot we could find and went to the circus. We returned a few hours later to find a rather large crowd of people waiting for their cars. The lot staff was clearly overwhelmed with the volume of cars and customers, and they were not doing a good job of communicating. To those of us standing around waiting, they seemed utterly incompetent.

After some 35 minutes, frustration was growing. Finally to the front of the makeshift line we were standing on, I handed my ticket off to the attendant and pointed my car out to him. He had to move a large truck to get to it, and then all hell broke loose.

When we parked, the lot attendant was short on change, so he told us he would have to owe us $10 when we left. I told this to the attendant who was retrieving our car, and asked for the previous attendant by name -- Ronnie. While the guy who was getting our car was yelling in no apparent direction for Ronnie, another attendant began to move the truck that had just been moved to free my car back into its position in front of my car.

I stepped in front of it and said,"No! Get my car out!"

But they didn't. They kept trying to move the truck back and I refused to let them. In a profane and loud manner. Repeatedly. We had been waiting for more than half an hour while these guys bounced around their lot like chickens without their heads and I was not going to budge until my car was moved out of its place.

In the meantime, Ronnie shows up, no doubt drawn by my histrionics, and starts yelling at me for not asking for him in the first place. I did ask for him, I barked back. He then stepped over to Keri while I was still doing my human roadblock routine and delivered the same harangue to her. Already furious, I very nearly had a stroke when I saw him confront my wife. I was (literally) spitting mad. They finally moved our car out, I put my family in, and we left.

As I got behind the wheel, I saw the looks on my daughters' faces. They were mortified. My wife was in tears. And my anger very quickly transformed into shame. If there is any gospel principle I have made a conscious and concerted effort to abide by over the past few years, it is that of returning anger with kindness and injustice with forgiveness. I try to do this not because I am a particularly good person, but because I know that the temper that came boiling out today lurks beneath the surface. I know that I am a natural man, and I rely on remembering the teachings of the Savior in moments like this precisely so I can avoid doing what I did.

I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine in which he suggested that very few of us who call ourselves Christian actually accept fully and without qualification the teachings of Christ. Sadly, I did my best to prove him right today. I apologized profusely to my wife and daughters for my display, begged their forgiveness, and told them there was no excuse for the way I behaved, even if we hadn't been treated well to begin with. I was grateful that none of my ward members saw my display. And if I knew how to go about it without stirring up more trouble, I'd return to that parking lot to offer an apology to those attendants for my belligerence. As I write this, I'm saddened that what the girls might remember today is not the wonderful time we had at the circus, but their idiot father frothing at the mouth for no good reason in that parking lot in Manhattan.

Few things make me feel worse than being slapped in the face with my own hypocrisy. I offer this post today as penance.