My wife and I are in an airport, exiting one of those trams built to shuttle people like cattle from terminal to terminal. I am closer to the door, and in the press of people I get out first. I slow down to wait for her. A potbellied man with a fussy little walk gripes at me, "Don't stop! Don't stop!"
I confess that tremendous resentment wells up in me when I encounter people like this. I grit my teeth and let him pass. I am feeling good about my higher level of spiritual maturity. "He sounds like you," says my wife.
Ouch. It's true that I am one to gripe when people pause in the middle of a crowded walkway. When I encounter those who like to walk three and four abreast so that they commandeer the entire sidewalk, I do indeed have to battle the impulse to smack each of them in the back of the head. Suddenly the potbellied man has, well, a good point. While he was rude (I almost never, I remind my wounded pride, bark at people not related to me by blood), I can see why he was irritated.
Now my mind goes to the guy who rode my tail on the highway to the airport. I was doing seven miles over the speed limit, and was only in the left lane to pass someone. Who did he think he was? But maybe, I think now, he was late for his flight, or had to get to the hospital. Haven't I gotten all over tailgates in those situations?
We're called to love our neighbors as ourselves, my wife points out, but while our motives are often at the front of our minds, how often do we afford strangers the same grace? How often instead do we assume the worst of them? "Be kind," wrote Philo of Alexandria, "because everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." One of my great battles is to remember that I am not the only one with battles.