After working in New York City for more years than I ever wanted to, I’ve become a colder person than I ever thought I could be; not necessarily cruel, but certainly angry, more competitive, untrusting and stressed out.
When I’m rushing for the train, I have no patience for the nitwits blocking the left-hand passing lane of the escalator and I have even less patience for the dimwits wandering around text-messaging in Grand Central Terminal at rush-hour without looking where they’re going. Sometimes I’m perfectly willing to plow into someone who is walking toward me without showing a willingness to move.
On the train, I detest blabber-mouths and people who put their luggage and feet on the seats when the rest of us need to sit down. And, by the way, those teenage girls who yap incessantly about their love affairs so everyone can hear are REALLY getting on my nerves.
But what I fear is that I’m becoming spiritually handicapped. Do you remember that line where Jesus predicts, “The love of many will grow cold”? I don’t want to be one of those people.
Last summer while I was hiking in the White Mountains, I met a fellow who suffered the same syndrome. He had moved from New Hampshire to Manhattan to work in a store that sold high-priced backpacks and hiking boots, but he knew it was time to return to the North Country when he walked over a homeless man sprawled on the sidewalk. I’m not at that point yet, which means to say I still reach into my pocket to give some cash to guys on the street, but I’m a lot more suspicious and a lot less compassionate than I used to be. The love of many will grow cold.
I pray for help all the time because I don’t want to end up being one of those cold-hearted, self-righteous people who go around telling everyone how to live because they think they’re better than everyone else.
The worst part is the anger. When people don’t behave the way I want them to behave or do what I consider the right thing, anger wells up in me. And there are a lot of examples, including the demagogue attacking Catholics on the Huffington Post, the fellow cutting people off on the turnpike, the teenager racing through the red light, and the woman who lets the door slam in my face.
Jesus was pretty explicit about judgmental people like me, who are more concerned with passing judgment than in showing mercy. When you’re self-righteous, you think you have all the answers – for yourself and everyone else. But, as they say, “You can’t see the picture if you’re in the frame.”
I know all the Bible verses – “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” “Judge not and you shall not be judged,” “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
So I’ve started a personal campaign to overcome this spiritual virus of mine. Every morning and every night and every time I run into someone I dislike – because they’re loud or nasty or garish or the wrong political party or the wrong religion or the wrong color hair – I immediately pray to Jesus that I see that person as Jesus sees them, through merciful and compassionate eyes rather than through my clouded vision.
Jesus has infinite compassion, and I’m only trying to expropriate a little of it so I’m not judging the book by its cover and not condemning, even when I think I have a good reason to condemn.
What is so terrifying is that it’s easy for me to get angry after I read the morning headlines because I expect the worst in people and they seldom disappoint me. Now, as soon as I feel those emotions welling up, I say, “Lord, save me!” as Peter did when he was sinking into the sea after he tried to walk on water.
My heart momentarily seems to soften until the next time someone slams the door in my face or throws an empty beer can on my lawn or cuts me off in the Whole Foods parking lot.
I know now what Jesus meant when he talked about the steep and narrow path. It’s not easy trying to live the Beatitudes, and sometimes I get so frustrated that I don’t want to.
Nevertheless, I always come back because in the end, what else is there?
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.