I live with chronic low back issues. Twelve years ago I was in a car accident, and my back has never quite been the same. On most days I can function well enough to do most of the things I need to do. The pain is typically minimal. But there are days when the pain spikes and my mobility is so limited that I can barely walk across the room. After my initial injury, the stubborn German heritage thing kicked-in to my inner dialogue and I refused to admit how debilitated I really was. One day, in a determination to go shopping at Target with my wife, I opted for not using a cane to walk because, dad gum it, “I’m not an invalid.” But I could barely walk from the car into the store. Walking very slowly, some obnoxious dude in his car became impatient with my parking lot slowness and honked, yelled at me to hurry the f**k up, and angrily flipped the bird at me when he was able to finally get moving.
In such situations it is more than tempting to just focus on the jerks around us and, so, never take a look at ourselves. Although Mr. Jerk was a first-class detriment to me and his behavior cannot be excused, he obviously did not know that I was only moving as fast as I could, which was a snail’s pace. He did not know my situation, and maybe he wouldn’t have cared. Yet, here is my takeaway from the experience, because I can’t change Mr. Jerk; I can only change myself: I was not accepting my real condition and was not being true to who I was. I was posturing and pretending to be okay when I was not. And, it turns out, once I embraced my limitations and started using a cane in public, people were quite sympathetic and the parking lot jerks disappeared. In fact, I noticed parents instructing their kids to be careful around me, cars began patiently waiting, and I even had lots of interesting conversations with other hurting people – all because I stopped putting up a false image of myself.
Most people are just trying to do the best they can under the circumstances they find themselves in. They want to carry their own weight without being dependent on others. They desire to contribute, and not to leech off others. Yes, there are real jerks out there; we all know a few. But we’re all in this human condition together, and must learn to negotiate our relations with each other based on truth, not falsehood. I was doing no one any favors, especially my own self, by putting up a faux exterior on how I was really doing. I drove my poor wife nuts. She shares neither my gender nor my barbarian ancestry and had no sympathy for my denial of disability. I wasn’t winning any Academy Awards for my portrayal of a got-it-all-under-control-don’t-need-anybody’s-help Mr. Macho Healthy Guy. By the way, just so you know, Chuck Norris has never won an Academy Award, because the dude wasn’t acting. No false front, man. I don’t think anybody else could be Walker, Texas Ranger. Stare down. Roundhouse kick. Badass. It’s not really a character. It’s Chuck Norris just being Chuck Norris. If I tried to be Chuck Norris I would probably look like my sister’s pathetic attempts at being Billy Jack when we were kids. Not gonna work.
We have a word for people who try to act one way but are really another: hypocrite. This is exactly why the Pharisees in the New Testament Gospels were vilified by Jesus. They put up a plastic image of themselves. They did not take a good hard look at their insides. They kept up appearances, kind of like when families pull into the church parking lot fighting like cats and dogs, but enter the church building all smiles and looking fine. That kind of stuff is soul-draining and keeps us at arms-length from people who could accept us for who we really are, warts and all. Maybe I have a thing about parking lots, or maybe parking lots just end up being dens of iniquity for all the pretenders of the world. Anyway, whatever the case, I think you get my drift. Mr. Jerk isn’t always the insensitive guy freely exposing his middle finger. Whenever we deny our authentic and real selves and try to hide from others through air-brushing our weaknesses and sins, we become what we most hate in other people.
So, keep it real, man. Use the cane, for God’s sake. Let’s stop trying to be someone we are not, and discover the person God created us to be. The best people to be around are the people who are the most comfortable in their own skin, kind of like Chuck Norris. Give that false self a roundhouse kick.