My pacifist roots served me well some months ago when I literally ran away from my one-and-only nemesis in life while in a shopping mall in Hong Kong following a minor surgery. I was wearing flip flops and still in my pajamas (because you can do that in Hong Kong) when I encountered her cumbersome (not, in this case, a euphemism for fat), familiar form in a book shop. Up until that point, I thought I had forgiven her for her breaches on humanity, but upon seeing her, a blind panic overtook me and I bolted, as though I was in Pamplona and a bull was hot on my heels. Regrettably, in addition to being in my flip flops, I was also wielding a rolling bag and might still have been mildly sedated. I ran for all I was worth, mowing down some poor shoppers' unsuspecting tootsies and tearing my meniscus in the process. Yes, I blame the flip flops. But I also blame my shocking lack of enlightenment after fifty years of hardcore living. Up until that point, I had been blissfully unaware of any simmering resentment and thought I was quite well along in my evolution of self.
Fast forward several months to today. Again I was wearing flip flops. It is the second-to-last day of school. I am mildly elated, well-fed on Middle Eastern dips and copious amounts of bread from our third grade "meeting," and excited to go home and finish packing for our summer holiday: traversing the continent in our 1991 camper van complete with one hippy husband, one pre-pubescent daughter who is prone to near-constant car sickness, and another daughter who will need stops every 10 minutes to practice her kung fu, kickin' it moves.
I digress. I am in a stuporous state: excited, slightly worried, and distracted. My friend, Sara, and I flag down an illegal Beijing black cab (only this one was white) to get home from our last full day of work. Sara is brimming over with boxes. The illegal driver pulled a "U"ie and picked us up. We didn’t negotiate the price to our housing compound because it is always the same: 40 kwai. He dropped her off first and then brought me to my house. I only had a 50 kwai note and he didn’t give me change, telling me that he dropped two people off so it was 50, not 40. I argued in my poor Chinese, but he already had my money. Almost always, people in China are very honest and kind. I shouldn’t have let one renegade driver and 10 kwai bother me, but he was rude and insistent. My lesser instinct took over.
I got out of the car and slammed the door as hard as I could, which wasn’t hard enough to indicate my anger. Remember (this is important): I was wearing flip flops, and with them, I feebly kicked the car door in retaliation for my not-hard-enough slam. It was a pathetic kick. I know so because I remember thinking, “Damn, I wish I was wearing my boots so I could have really nailed the door.” As referenced earlier, I have pacifist roots from my Mennonite upbringing, so it surprises me when the violent warrior woman shows up, which, fortunately, is seldom.
The driver hauled-ass out of the car when he heard the kick and came after me, right up the steps of my house. He started yelling, saying I had damaged his car. He showed me the smudge on his car where my flip flop had impacted. I brushed away the dirt to reveal nothing. Next, he pointed to some small indentation above it, obviously not caused by a flimsy shoe attached to a weak leg, and started to demand compensation. By this time, my children were outside, our ayi was involved, and he was practically forcing his way into our house.
I realized I had passed the threshold of reason and was now operating on adrenaline and fear. Rage and fear together are not a good combination because there is no room for reason. I just kept shouting, “Go” in English (because there were only primal first-language guttural utterances to be had), and I came dangerously close to shoving him. Finally, I slammed (another slam!) our house door, locked it, and stood tearfully at the window with my daughters wrapped around my legs, while he took an agonizingly long time to leave the premises.
The irrational part of me feels terrified that he will come back and try to murder my family for my flip flop felony. If he feels as vengeful as I did, he is capable of doing something dreadful. The thing is, I know I didn’t respond well. His rage was probably as well placed as mine. I shouldn’t have kicked his car, even if I didn’t kick it well, and obviously, I shouldn’t get in a car with a stranger, though that is what you do in China if you need to get home from work and you missed the bus. Usually, it’s no problem. You live with a bit of faith and hope for the best.
But suddenly I don’t feel so full of faith for humanity and especially for myself. When I reflect on my regrettable reactions, it’s like watching a bad movie that I can’t walk out of because it’s oddly compelling and I paid for the double-butter tub of popcorn and it’s all about me, after all.
I don’t want to be the person in that movie. People can end up in jail for heat-of-the-moment actions; it’s the reason guns shouldn’t be legal anywhere on the planet; and it’s the kind of behavior that has me thinking I should join a Thai monastery for a year or two, only I can’t sit on the floor and meditate because it hurts my sacrum too much, and instead of becoming enlightened, I’d only become grumpy and even more crippled than I already am. I want to breathe deeply from my diaphragm on a regular basis, and smile like I mean it (I most always do), and say, “Keep the change,” which is what I will definitely do next time.
Maybe it’s just time for summer vacation. As luck would have it, that would be tomorrow. I’ll be wearing flip flops and meditating. In the camper van. Wish me luck.