Dim the Lights

Serenity Prayer

In nearly 18 years of hanging around the nursing home, Allison and I have had a few opportunities to practice that first line of the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”.

But ugh, how difficult sometimes!

I told you a few months ago about the day my nursing home friend Dan disappeared, and nobody would even tell me if he was dead or alive.

I’ve also told you about the time I got scolded like a little child by the administrator, for locking up my bicycle to the fence. I had been asking them for 10 YEARS to put in a bike rack! (They still don’t have one). I’m steaming just writing about that day!

I continue to ponder how I could better handle these kinds of situations at the nursing home WITHOUT anger, and accept the things I cannot change. Because the lessons we learn at the nursing home always spill over into our personal lives (in a good way).

Our Bicycles
Allison and I arriving at the nursing home on our bicycles

We celebrated MLK’s birthday last month. He’s been gone for nearly 50 years, but we still take time to remember his life, take a day off from school or work, and listen to snippets of the “I have a dream” speech on the nightly news.

Of course there’s really nothing new under the sun, and most of what MLK taught was originally taught by another wise man nearly 2000 years earlier. It was the way MLK practiced what he preached that really separated him from most of us.

There’s one other story of his that you don’t see on TV that often, even though he repeated several times in his preaching career. It’s called the “Dim the Lights” story, and it’s the one that is the most challenging to me. Here’s one telling of it from a sermon he gave in November of 1957:

My brother and I were driving one evening to Chattanooga, Tennessee, from Atlanta. He was driving the car. And for some reason the drivers were very discourteous that night. They didn’t dim their lights; hardly any driver that passed by dimmed his lights. And I remember very vividly, my brother A. D. looked over and in a tone of anger said: “I know what I’m going to do. The next car that comes along here and refuses to dim the lights, I’m going to fail to dim mine and pour them on in all of their power!” And I looked at him right quick and said: “Oh no, don’t do that! Be too much light on this highway, and it will end up in mutual destruction for all. Somebody got to have some sense on this highway.”

That’s really the whole problem, isn’t it? Whether it comes to neighbor vs neighbor, or brother vs brother, or country vs country — nobody wants to be the first to dim to lights.

I got a very poignant taste of this just the other day. This story actually begins about 10 years ago. I was involved in a business transaction the turned sour due to a few petty details. One day I was on the phone with the other party and we really got off track, and all of a sudden I realized he was SCREAMING at me. I had never been on a call like this and I was kind of like a deer in headlights. He proceeded to yell all kinds of insults for at least 10 minutes, while I barely got in a word. Then he hung up on me, and we’ve never spoken again.

Monkey Phone
(Actual guy I was talking to, only madder)

That really ate me up for a long time. Once I gathered my thoughts, I kept thinking I was going to call him back some day, and yell at him for while, just to get my revenge, but I never had the guts to do it.

The story doesn’t end there. As some of your know, I run the chess club at my son’s school. For a couple years I’d recognized the last name of one of the kids in the chess club, and then one day, it hit me. AHA! That’s his DAUGHTER! (She was an infant when this original incident occurred.) Then I said to myself, “FINALLY, I’ll get my REVENGE! I’LL BAN HIS DAUGHTER from the chess club! HE’LL BE CAREFUL WHO HE MESSES WITH NEXT TIME!!!”

Let me be very clear with everyone reading this. This was not a joke. I didn’t laugh afterwards. For a brief moment, I was dead serious, until fortunately, the absurdity of what I was about to do became clear.

This revealed two things to me. First of all, it revealed what a ridiculous person I am, that I was actually considering this. But it also made it clear to me how strong that power is, the power of wanting revenge, which is rooted in pridefulness. In an instant, it transformed me from a normally calm, gentle person, into an angry lunatic, willing to take out a 10-year old grudge on an innocent 10-year old kid.

I see this kind of high-speed-mood-swing behavior all the time when I’m riding in the car with someone. You can be sitting there with a mild-mannered person, having a conversation about, I don’t know, what you’re getting your kids for Christmas. Another car turns right on red in front of them and instantly both hands spring into action. One goes to the horn for a 10 second HONNNNNNNK, and the other one goes out the window, with the middle finger raised. We’ve just got to get our revenge! I think that’s really what it comes down to. It’s not that they made you tap your brakes, or that you’ll get home a full 2 seconds later. It’s as if by cutting us off they “defeated” us in some way, and we don’t like to be bested by anyone.

Angry Driver
What do you mean Starbucks was out of my Latte Macchiato?!?

It’s so easy to talk about world peace and complain about “those savages” fighting amongst themselves in the Middle East, and “can’t we all just get along?” Aah, but when it comes to our own personal life, we realize how tough it really is to love our enemies. I can’t imagine there’s anything tougher to do. Heck, I’m not even close to the goal of LOVING them yet — I’m just trying not to HATE them. There’s good reason to do this though, because “Hate destroys the hater as well as the hated” (MLK). The key is being able to realize when anger and pride are getting the best of us, and snapping out of it, before we do something we’ll regret.

But ugh, how difficult sometimes!

  • By Duffy, February 21, 2016 @ 7:53 am

    Thank you, Steve. This is perfect timing as I’ve been struggling with a particular demon of my own lately and your lesson shows me how ridiculous and soul harming it is.

  • By Anne, February 21, 2016 @ 10:39 pm

    Thanks, Steve, for this wonderful post! It is so true that we all want some pie-in-the-sky peace and forget that it starts at home, holding back that hurtful comment or mean action from the ones we love best!

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