Tonight, just after dark, we went downtown to pick up some dinner at the little pizza place right next door to the video store we like. I’ve been getting videos there for many years. They used to deliver, which was enormously convenient when the children were small. This summer I’ve noticed that the parking lot outside the building is more and more crowded, and people are circling waiting for a spot. In particular they like to stop circling as soon as they see someone walking toward a car, because getting a spot in the video store parking lot is clearly a time-sensitive matter.
Earlier this summer I watched a mother with kids in the car back up the length of the parking lot, fast, to try to beat me into a space. Now, I wasn’t going to take the space anyway; she was there ahead of me. But I found I was just enraged by the encounter. #1 Son was in the car with me; he pretty much thought I was nuts, and this may explain why he likes to drive now rather than be the passenger. Mom-with-Kids didn’t get the spot in the end; I got out of her way and someone else slipped into it. I left the parking lot and drove around the block, eventually finding a spot on the street. We took our time about going into the video store, because I was *so* close to wanting to deliver a verbal smackdown to this woman about her crazy driving.
But I’ve been that desperate mother with a car full of kids, and it’s highly unlikely I would have fussed at her in the video store.
Meanwhile, however, my blood pressure was on the rise. My temper was hot.
Tonight we experienced another bad parking scenario. Traffic circling the lot was at a standstill as a red sedan waited for a gigantic pick-up truck to back out of a space. It didn’t help matters that giant pick-up truck’s driver took his time about backing out in the first place, but when he finally did, red sedan’s driver had to back up to give the truck room to clear the parking space.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I really hate it when there is that kind of backing up in a parking lot. This is probably because as a young driver I had several accidents while backing up in parking lots, and I am therefore keenly aware of how easy it is to lose the view of a car behind you or to misjudge the distance you are traveling in reverse.
Pure Luck, meanwhile, had gone in to pick up the pizza.
The truck out of the parking space, red sedan pulled in and parked. I pulled forward to continue circling, but as I came around a corner, pickup truck was backing up again!! ACK!!! I quickly checked to see how close the next car behind me was–too close–and so I honked. You see, giant pickup truck is much taller than the Songbirdmobile, and I wanted to notify the driver of my presence very nearly under his rear bumper. He was having trouble negotiating the exit from the parking lot, which is relatively narrow, but after another try, he was able to exit. Since Pure Luck had gotten back into the car (an illustration of how long the first part of this parking transaction lasted), we followed the truck through the exit.
Pickup Truck Driver lingered, looking back at me from his open window, as if to say, “Why did you honk at me, b!#*&?” He turned a corner, stopped, and looked back again.
I was a little upset. (See Title.)
“Was it wrong of me to honk to be sure he knew I was there, or should I have let him hit me?” More words to that effect were spoken in a big hurry.
Pure Luck listened to me patiently, then said, “I don’t think you need to be upset about this. I don’t think you need to worry about what he thinks of you.”
Ah. That gets to the heart of the matter, doesn’t it? I grew up in a family that emphasized not making a scene and not getting on the wrong side of anything or anyone. My work as a pastor seems to demand the same thing most of the time. In the blogosphere I sometimes worry if my comments go too far, come on too strong. Who exactly am I presenting to the world?
It’s no fun to be rejected or disparaged, but even worse to wonder if you really deserved it. I wasn’t really worried about the guy in the pickup truck, but rather about someone who took offense at my well-meant comments posted in a little box.
Part of the trick bag of being clergy is finding time and space in which you do not have to play the pastoral role. It’s extremely difficult. My heart went out to someone grappling with these questions which plague me all the time. I remember one of my mentors telling me, just after I started my first call three years ago, how he arranged his life in order to have time to exercise and how it was an item of faith with him that he did not work on his vacations or his sabbatical or his days off. I wondered how this could be possible? I argued that it wasn’t. I told myself that it was all very well for him because his wife was cooking dinner every night. (I’m not sure what that had to do with it, but I was feeling oppressed by his advice and couldn’t think of anything to cook myself, probably.) And in fact I know now that there were exceptions to his rules. But he held fast to them anyway.
I struggle with the issue of time off, but I struggle less with it after three years than I did in that first year. It’s in the small moments that it comes back to me, when I’m angry in a parking lot and kind of wish I were one of the people free to be uncivil and deliver an impolite salute. And I realize that the struggle is not really about days off but about the pastoral role. One of the reasons I love doing things with the dogs is that I’m not a pastor in those hours. In obedience class, I was definitely not a pastor. I was barely a dog handler. I was mostly a clutzy woman whose pockets were full of liver treats and whose sweater was covered with slobboo. There was great freedom in being that woman, who didn’t have to care if people saw her decorated with slobboo; they were wearing it, too.
Saturday morning I’m going to mix up those roles. I’ll be at a dog club event, a Fun Day, and for a few hours I’ll be just a garden variety volunteer, signing people in at the Registration table. But just before lunch, I will put on my pastoral role and perform a Blessing of the Animals. At the same time that I love the fact we will be praying for the animals displaced by Hurricane Katrina, I’m also a little sorry to have to play that role, because it blurs the lines.
My advice continues to be impractical, and I violate it myself, but to my clergy friends who struggle with this issue I would say, Try and find something to do that is so engaging, so captivating or so difficult that you cannot remember you are a clergyperson while you are doing it. The other role will clamor for your attention again soon enough.