Now that the season of Lent has come to an end I face a rather difficult decision. I mentioned in an earlier entry about my non-traditional approach to Lent and explained how I was essentially giving up saying negative things about people for the 40 day period. I bet you're just dying to know how that went, right?
One of the first things I noticed in my struggle to retrain my words was an increased amount of laughter. Of course, I laugh a lot to begin with, but with this new set of rules of engagement I found myself encountering some awkward conversational moments. Perhaps I'd be talking with my wife and the door of opportunity would open. There it was...just sitting in the air like a hanging curveball just waiting to be smacked. Normally I would have taken a shot, said something negative and the conversation would have seamlessly moved along. But not this spring. For the last few weeks when this type of opportunity has presented itself I've had to literally stop talking. This pause almost always stopped the conversation and for the first couple of weeks it really irritated my wife. In those moments there was nothing I could do but laugh.
Eventually she started laughing at the situation too though she remained irritated about my inability to tear into someone who was so obviously asking for it. One of the things I'd say to remind her of the reason I was abruptly changing the subject was, "I can’t talk about that until after Easter". Then we'd laugh and move on.
The laughter also made its way to the highways. Since I spend a fair amount of time on the roads I have a high chance of encountering roadway mayhem. I saw a lady driving 70 mph on I-85 taking up both regular lanes and the emergency lane while she held her arms through the steering wheel and texted furiously with both thumbs. Several people turned across lanes and nearly swiped my vehicle. One trip to Rock Hill last week I had 4, count them, 4 people pull out right in front of me in the fast lane. What could I do? Laugh. It was my only option. Usually after laughing I'd remind myself that I should be positive and welcome them to pull out in front of me or use my portion of the road because I had no idea what sort of traumatic experience they might be going through. Sure they may have looked like punks who couldn't drive, but they may have been on the way home from a particularly depressing divorce proceeding or from a terrible doctor appointment. They may have more on their minds than not making Doug angry.
The interesting part was when my laughter and attempt at positivity began to be contagious. I noticed this a couple of weeks ago on the way home from work. I drive through some serious country roads on that trip and at one point this lady in an SUV made a very, very wide turn because of driver inattention. I saw it coming (one of the added perks of this endeavor) and I stopped well short of the intersection to allow her the right of way. She quickly corrected back into her lane and by this time I was sitting there near the cows just laughing out loud at the situation and my inability to negatively comment on it. The lady saw me laughing and she slowed down, smiled and waved the international "I'm sorry" wave. I'm sure I've heard somewhere that bitterness breeds bitterness, so I suppose the converse is also true. Perhaps positivity breeds positivity.
The other thing I learned was that when faced with the potential for negativity, I do have a choice. I am not obligated to respond to ignorance with negativity. Sure it's sometimes funny and often convenient to do so - but is it wise? During this time I had a particular opportunity to completely level someone over an immature act. In years past I would have launched into a vicious personal attack and I would have used every single resource available to rain down fire and brimstone on such a person. But while I was angry for a short time I soon found that the initial flame of anger subsided when I refused to pour gasoline on it. With no fuel, the whole thing just died out. And now it's just kind of funny on a lot of different levels. I may not have laughed at first, but I continue to find humor in it now. Too often we fail to realize that things like this just take care of themselves. It's not my job to take people down. I'll leave that to Chuck Norris.
So now what? If I had given up eating meat for Lent I'd dive into a filet mignon. If I'd given up chocolate I'd watch as Hershey's stock rose the weeks after Easter. But when you take a non-traditional approach to Lent, you must also consider a non-traditional approach to the days after Lent.
With Easter behind me would I be free to take up the list my wife has made for me? She's kept a running tally of all the things we need to remember to talk about after Easter. I think our friend Ginger may also have such a list. So do I walk away from this experience and toss out the things I've learned along the way? I suppose that would be foolishness. Maybe it's not a good idea for everything to be brought back to life.