Hitchhiking on the Road to Reconciliation

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Here you are, hurt and alone, plodding along the Road to Reconciliation. Powerful emotions keep passing by, giving you directions, offering you a ride. So, how about it? Can you trust these emotions and get onboard? Will they take you anywhere you want to go?

Anger and Rage are the first to pick you up. They drive an impressive muscle car, four-eighty under the hood and four on the floor. They tell you if you want Justice, they’re heading that way and can take you there. “To get to Justice, you have to go straight to the person who hurt you and hurt him back,” they say. But Justice is not Happiness. Moreover, the money he spent is still gone, the trust she squandered is still gone, the good will he pissed away, well, that’s gone, too. The person who hurt you made you feel small and now you made her small. In Justice, everyone is small together because that’s only fair.

Sadness and Grief come by, too, driving a hearse. You climb on board and curl up in the back. The seats are soft, the lighting dim, the music in a minor key. There’s a paradoxical comfort to Sadness and a goodness to Grief. You feel better after a good cry; but, when you’re in the middle of it, it’s like being torn in two. Then, you look out the tear splattered window and realize you’re not going anywhere. Sadness and Grief did nothing but acknowledge your loss and shelter you in place.

When you get out of Sadness, Contempt and Disgust are coming down the road in an Escalade. From a distance, they look a lot like Anger; but, when you get in their car, you feel like you’re going to puke. You accept the ride, anyway, because, at least they’re going somewhere. “He doesn’t deserve you,” says Contempt and Disgust, “You’re better than him.” You ride high, looking down on everyone, feeling untouchable. After a while, that’s the problem, you’re untouchable and lonely in your superiority.

Contempt and Disgust leave you on the highway, gagging on their foul exhaust. “So long, sucker,” they call. “You could’ve rode in style; we’ll beat you by a mile.” The next thing you know, you’re in a Pinto called Despair. There doesn’t seem to be anyone at the wheel. The car is driving itself and you’re heading over a cliff. You struggle to get out of Despair, but there doesn’t seem to be any escape. All of a sudden someone hits you. Shame hits you with its van and loads your wounded body in the back.

Shame takes you to a bunker, ties you to a chair, and lashes you with what you could have done and who you could have been. You become Shame’s slave. It rapes you, beats you, and calls you a pitiful loser. “You deserve everything you get,” Shame says. “You make me do this to you, you make everyone hurt you.” In time, Shame breaks you: then you’re not even worth the trouble to mistreat anymore. It rips off your clothes and leaves you on the side of the road, naked and beaten.

Envy comes by and throws a cloak of sympathy over you. “You need to be taken seriously,” it says. “Come with me and we’ll show them.” You go with Envy, driving the very car you allays wished you had, on an unrestrained spree of lawlessness. Every dirty thing anyone has done to you, you do it now, just to say you could do it, too. If he gambled, you gamble; if she screwed around, you screw around; if he got high on drugs, you use the same drugs; you treat your children with the same abuse your parents treated you. You don’t leave Envy until you see an ambulance coming down the road with its siren going and the driver leaning out of the window, screaming at you to get on board. This one is called Fear. You drop everything and go with it.

Fear drives fast, but in no particular direction, just as long as it’s away from the latest terror. You don’t sleep, you don’t eat, you don’t even go to the bathroom because there’s germs everywhere. Fear takes you right back to the one who mistreats you because you’re afraid of being alone; then it takes you away because of fear of what he’ll do to you. You finally give up on fear, not because you are not afraid, but because you’re in Confusion and Exhaustion.

Confusion and Exhaustion don’t take you anywhere. It’s a rattletrap beater, broken down on the side of the road. The hood is up. The driver studies the engine; but he doesn’t know what to do. A lot of other drivers stop and give advice, but they all contradict each other. A repair truck comes by, but Confusion and Exhaustion are just too heavy to tow away.

When Guilt comes by, you almost don’t get in the car; Guilt looks like Shame, all over again. Guilt drives an old pickup truck; the shocks are shot, it has a punishing ride. “You’re a good person,” says Guilt, proving it’s different than Shame, “but you did some wrong things and played a part in everything. Learn from your mistakes and do better. Try again.”

As it turns out, Guilt gets you further down the Road to Reconciliation than any of the others. It helps you see your part in the problem and your role in restitution. It hands you off to its friend, Compassion, who then takes you to meet the loved one who hurt you and teaches you his perspective on things. But you had to leave Guilt, too. It has a regular route. After it stops at Compassion, it takes a trip back to Shame’s bunker.

It turns out you can hitchhike on the Road to Reconciliation, but be careful from whom you accept a ride and how far you go with them.