I had a disturbing conversation today. He was from Texas, a state my family resided in during my first Air Force tour. What troubled me was a recent experience he had that revealed even “down south,” where courtesies long forgotten by most on the west coast still prevail, rudeness is on the rise.
The man I was talking to is a crippled veteran, a Marine in fact. We were discussing the number of people who don’t think twice about “stealing” clearly marked disabled parking spaces from those who genuinely need them.
He related that as he returned to his car recently, there was a young man just getting out of his own vehicle in the adjacent, reserved space. There was no indication on the vehicle that it was authorized to use the space, and neither the man nor his passenger evidenced any disability.
The veteran said, “maybe you didn’t realize it, but that’s a handicapped space you just parked in.”
His words elicited an emotional backlash as the driver (in his twenties) unleashed a barrage of vulgarity and curses at this stranger who had dared to point out his discourteous act.
After his rant, the trash-talker’s father interjected, “hey, it’s none of your business where my son parks, anyway, what do you expect us to do?”
The Marine stood his ground and said, “someone who needs that spot won’t be able to use it if you’re there. If you don’t want to move it now, perhaps the police can persuade you to do it when they arrive.”
As he pulled his phone out of his pocket, the grumbling older man persuaded his fuming son to move the car before the call could go through.
As disgusting as this scene was, I’m sure it’s reenacted across the globe in hundreds of locales every day.
I shared with my new friend the first thought that entered my mind when I heard the question: “what do you expect us to do?”
I told him I would have been tempted to shout: “What I expect is for you, as a father, to feel some modicum of shame for the disgusting way your son is acting.”
What used to be universally regarded as inappropriate conduct now appears to have become the norm. This decline has been in progress for some time. C.S. Lewis referred to the slide in public mores in a 1945 essay.
“We have lost the invaluable faculty of being shocked—a faculty which has hitherto almost distinguished the Man or Woman from the beast or child.” (“After Priggery—What?”)
If I had been there to voice the words that leapt to my mind—and if the foul-mouthed individual didn’t beat me into deaf unconsciousness—I would be curious to see if my statement elicited the slightest glimmer of shame in either father or the son.
There is an irony interwoven into this tale, as is true in so much of life. Although I don’t hijack disabled parking spaces . . . there is much in my life for which I should be—and am—ashamed. As I consider my own selfishness and sin, I am reminded that I am no more deserving of God’s grace than either of the men I am so quick to condemn.
Here too C.S. Lewis offers wise insight. In The Problem of Pain he describes how it is only in sincere, naked self-examination and confession that we can see ourselves as we truly are. “Unless Christianity is wholly false, the perception of ourselves which we have in moments of shame must be the only true one.”
Shame is part of the life of the Christian. And, I would suggest, in the life of every healthy person. I’m not talking about debilitating shame that leads to despair or self-loathing. I’m referring to that shame that is itself a divine gift. The shame that reminds me I should strive to be a better person today than the man I was yesterday.
A shame that drives me to my knees in prayer and moves me to echo the prayers of millions of believers before me and this very day alongside me . . . “forgive me my trespasses, as I forgive those who trespass against me.”