On Courtesy and Release: Road Rage on a Small Gravel Road

The road I travel daily is gravel, much like the roads of my childhood. I remember those long, dusty odysseys to various relatives’ houses on hot summer weekends with my parents: the crunch of the gravel, the clouds of dust that roiled up around our tires, my mother’s yellow headscarf  flapping in the wind. The specifics of those journeys are smoothed out now into a generalized sensory memory without details, but powerful in feeling.

A few weeks ago I was driving along my gravel road, which is at best a lane and a half. Cars regularly pull aside into an occasional wide space to allow passage of two vehicles. Suddenly I brake hard, a red car speeding at me. Luckily my car came to a fast stop, the red car screeching to a halt beside me. The window rolls down and a face appears, one I know I should know, but don’t. “You’d better slow yourself down,” the woman says. My insides feel like gravel. As calmly as I can muster, I say, “I need to slow down?” She stares. “Yes, you. And get out of the middle of the road.” She sends gravel flying as she slams on her accelerator and leaves me in the dust.

It is not just the dust of the road. It is also the dust of all my past indignation and untended anger, all the walled up, suppressed, just-be-a-lady rage. It is not road rage. I do not pursue her or harass her. I do not post my indignation on Facebook or twitter. I do not even write this post until weeks have passed. It takes me half an hour or more to calm myself. Beyond that it takes something much larger. It takes letting go.

Letting go is something of a catch phrase these days, easy to say, easy to be glib about, something to brush off, a way to say it is nothing, when in fact, it is everything. But how is that so different from the old habits of suppression, of making believe my anger doesn’t exist, putting on the mask of persona? Letting go is about release. Words and their meanings are a treasure hunt for me, so I turn to my dictionary.

Release is such a rich word, all its denotations full of comfort: to free from confinement, obligation, or pain; to allow to be known; liberation from that which constrains. The very words soothe me like ointment on a wound. How could I not want release more than anger–a known and acknowledged anger from which I choose to release myself by allowing it to go? And so I choose to release myself from being right. I choose to let myself go free. Imagine.

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