When I first crossed the Maine state line about two months ago, a sign by the interstate greeted me. “Welcome to Maine,” it read, “The Way Life Should Be”. I thought this was a most quaint and appropriate greeting. Few other states can lay claim to such a motto. Not California (“The Way Life Should Be…Gnarly Dude”), or Kansas (“The Way Life Should Be, Just Passing Through”) and certainly not Florida (“The Way Life Should Be…Well the Retired Part At Least”). No, I think not. Maine wins.
Up the coast from this welcoming salutation is my current location of residence, Bar Harbor. One of the more interesting facts I’ve learned about Bar Harbor is that this is not its original name. The founding documentation of the town was signed in 1796 (by none other than Samuel Adams, mind you) at which time it was incorporated it as the Town of Eden. It remained such until 1918. And this name still seems to suit it.
If Maine as a whole is “the way life should be”, then Bar Harbor is the climax. It is the type of place where people smile and say hi when you walk by, the sound of children’s laughter echoes on summer evenings, couples walk hand in hand smiling and licking ice cream cones and you rarely lock your car and even leave your keys on the seat. There’s hiking trails and kayaking for when it’s sunny, and coffee shops or art galleries for rainy days. Plenty of restaurants are small, the owners know regular customers by name, and greet them with coffee, a smile and the simple question: “The usual?” It sure seems like Eden.
But they key phrase there is “seems”. It has its flaws. There have been few issues with Bar Harbor that I’ve already encountered. Take, for example, the absence of a Chipotle within 200 miles (yes, 200 I could hardly believe it either). Furthermore, driving can be minimally frustrating, due in part to tourists and in part to bikers who demand that we share the road with them but refuse to follow any sort of rules therein (I’m actually part of that group, so call this an apology). And then, finally, there’s the cranky lady on Mount Desert Street.
I encountered her just this past week. I was on my way home, when I made a short pit stop at the grocery store to pick up essentials like bananas, salad and pasta (no white wine though). On my way back, I attempted to take a short cut.
Short cuts are a quirky family trait. Not quirky in the cute and that’s-kinda-cool way, but quirky in the you-are-on-the-brink-of-pushing-me-over-the-edge-of-sanity fashion. My childhood is littered with memories of my father’s obsession with them. He had a knack for taking short cuts on just about every family vacation we went on. We’d be on our way to Alabama and with a quick gander at the map my father would proclaim, “Oh, I know a great short cut!” Next thing you know we’re in Texas. Since we were kids, our understanding of geography was too limited for us to know better, and my mother was still a British citizen, so he got away with it. We rarely questioned why twenty-hour drives seemed to take three days, and even when we did my father would simply say something like “Well, it wouldn’t have taken that long if I’d taken the short cut. Next time though!” And next time we’d go through Kansas. Like father, like son, short cuts never seem to end well. You would think I’d learned this after driving around Gloucester for four hours in May.
So I was biking home, and decided to cut through a small alley. This side street led to the back parking lot of an inn, which sat on Mount Desert Street just a couple blocks from my home. There was a sign on at the entrance to the alley which said “Private Property, No Public Traffic”, but it was really late at night. Where I come from, just about anything goes after 10 PM, and bikes certainly don’t count as traffic. So I biked on through.
I was just past the inn when I nearly fell off my bike and peed myself simultaneously. The cause of this scare was a voice so heinously vicious it is permanently seared into my memory. “This is not a walkway!” It croaked. “Nor is it a bikeway!”
When I had recovered (and checked my pants) I composed myself. The voice had been malicious, as if I’d donned a mullet and sleeve tattoos then knocked on their door and asked permission to whisk their daughter away for a weekend vacation to Las Vegas. But all I had done was bike by their side entrance. That someone would be so unfriendly and blatantly territorial in response to this infuriated me. And who sits in waiting for someone to come passing through their private walkway at freakin’ midnight? So I shot back: “That’s what I thought! It’s a toilet right? I hope so, because I just defecated on your doorstep. Sorry for any confusion!”
I didn’t actually say that. What I actually said was more like a squeak of terror than anything else, and it sounded remotely like: “I’m sorry.”
But I didn’t want to say that. And I didn’t mean it; I wasn’t sorry. I was pretty darn mad. Had I not wetted myself, and not been terrified of whatever deranged human being whose voice that belonged to, I might have gone back there and actually lived up to my sub-conscious threat, or at least participated in a verbal joust of sorts. As it was, I squeaked an apology and biked on home to change my boxers, thinking of the beautiful revenge I might have if I ever matched that voice to someone on my kayak tour.
But later I found myself asking the question: What would Jesus do? More importantly, what would He mutter to himself as He biked off (okay, walked off, disciples in tow) to change His underwear (probably not “Fruit of the Loom”) after being yelled at by an old grouch (aka Pharisee). Maybe He’d turn around, apologize profusely to the lady for violating her evening, and then ask her what was troubling her and making her so angry. If this were the case, I could probably save Jesus the time and wager that she was upset because she found herself in a room with ten cats and nothing better to do but wait by her doorway and scare the living daylights out of unsuspecting young men when they biked by. But the point still stands: for someone who claims to follow this Jesus fellow, I don’t really do a good job of it.
I’m fully aware this is nothing new, and it’s not just a problem that I have; it’s everyone. Christians have an annoying tendency of taking Jesus’ words and giving them the qualifier “Well, He didn’t mean it like that.”
Take, for example, the frequently disregarded command to “turn the other cheek”. Somehow we’ve added a clause to this that makes it: “turn the other cheek, except when nationalism is involved, they owe you money, you’re bigger than them, you’re right, they’re wrong, they insulted your family/business/sports team, or they’re a cranky old lady and you think you’re awesome because you’re riding a bike late at night and found a short cut…. go you”. In fact, it seems that today we’ve come to accept that the only time when it’s okay to turn the other cheek is if they are bigger than you. And when doing so, not to wait for them to slap it, but to run like hell to your stash of nuclear warheads (or vulgar comebacks) then return and shove it up there’s.
I apologize for wasting a good portion of your time with something that’s mostly introspective, but this event was one culmination of subtle revelations that make up my life. I may live in a town once known as Eden, and I may claim to follow to someone whose life, death and resurrection is bringing about the redemption of the entire world. But I still fail to live this out in some of the smallest moments of my day.
When I pray, I try to pray for peace and grace, mostly to accept the big things. But what I need is the grace to deal with small hindrances in life: the cantankerous women, arrogant east-coast-private-school-with-European-sounding-accent-on-the-vowel graduates and even my own ineptitude when locking myself out of the house before work. The last example was a shameless plug: read my next post.
The point is: if I want to live in grace, then it’s going to have to start with the small things. This is the life we’re called too. We pray for the small things, but we pray in hope that someday they will amount to big things. And that’s “the way life should be”.