Resisting the urge to help

Editor’s note: Anthony is taking a breather this week, so we are reprinting this column from April 2009.

If I’m waiting in the right lane at a red light and the guy behind me wants to make a right turn—and he could if I weren’t in the way—I want to do something about it. I want to help him. He wants to turn, and I’m in the way! I don’t want to go anywhere to the right, and I want to turn anyway just to let him get on with whatever he’s about—I’ll go around the block. I have actually turned right in order not to impede traffic. Not lately.

Then last week I was waiting at a red light to make a right turn, and so was the woman behind me. I didn’t have a good view of the traffic from the left, though, and I didn’t want to creep across the crosswalk—that’s when the blind cripple would show up—in order to see farther. So I’m in this poor woman’s way! I intend to make a right turn like hers only first, and just because I can’t see the oncoming traffic as well as I’d like, I’m holding up this stranger’s life.

Yes, I may make a right turn on a red light, but I’m not required to do so. Our waiting there at that stoplight together must be on both our life paths and there’s nothing to fix. Or, tough noogies, she’s gotta wait. Either way, my presumed victim is likely to be thinking nothing of the sort, and if she is, my heart goes out to her because she takes her anxiety around with her, just like me.

Three conscious breaths and I’m back here and now, where things are just fine, and the light changes.

Sometimes when I don’t make a right turn on a red light although I’m signaling a right turn, people blow their HORNS. Then six breaths, sometimes 10.

My urge to help reared its peculiar head at a poetry reading recently. More people showed up than had been planned for, and someone announced that more chairs were being brought forthwith. It was all I could do not to get up and go look for the chairs. I swear. I’d have no idea where to look for spare chairs, and I’d only carry one at a time anyway, and the thought of such a thing was ludicrous even to me. But my knee jerked to help get the chairs. There were people standing, for Pete’s sake, and I was just sitting there not doing anything about it, not one thing. The things with which I put up. Now that I’m starting to recognize my ego, I enjoy it.