I love rules. They are so useful for making other people behave. I don’t need rules because I am a good girl and behave very well already.
My husband thinks rules are unnecessary and confining. This makes me very nervous.
So recently while on the way to that “Walk with the Dinosaurs” extravaganza making its rounds nationwide, we had a conversation we’ve repeated a few times during our marriage:
“Why did you bring that?” I pointed to the camcorder. “They’re not going to let you take pictures or film.”
“They never do at this type of thing. It has to do with copyright. There’ll be an announcement — just you wait.”
“Copyright?! I just want a few snapshots — I’m not going to sell them. Besides, what are they going to do? Send around the camera police?”
“It doesn’t matter what you do with them. A rule is a rule. Just because you don’t agree with it doesn’t mean you should disregard it.”
Yada yada yada — and so it went on. Whatever. I had made up my mind. No camera.
On this particular day this conversation set the tone for my mood which was too bad since, though I couldn’t care less about dinosaurs, I care somewhat about my husband who likes dinosaurs so much he had been willing to shell out a small fortune for the show. I wanted to appear the supportive wife, so I had already decided that at least I could watch people, who are often more entertaining than any show. I was also glad to get out of the house.
Sure enough, before the show started a voice boomed over the stadium: “Dinosaurs will eat anyone filming or photographing the show.” Told ya so, dear, though I looked very gracious to not rub it in.
But now a tangent. (Bear with me.) Soon after seating ourselves, a Cluster of folks appeared with tickets for the seats next to us, including a Seat #9 at the end of the row, which was simply a chairless space. While they stood there looking confused, a woman a couple of rows back rasped loudly, “That is just awful! How dare they sell a ticket for a seat that isn’t there! You should complain – they should give you a seat in the front row! You should sue!”
I wanted to be helpful. “I’m sure they could bring in an extra chair.”
A woman in the Cluster sneered at me and snorted, “A chair –!” while the group’s matriarch complained to Mr. Security, who stared at the tickets with furrowed brow.
Immediately I was inwardly reeling about the sneering “a chair –!” comment. Had I said something wrong? Was I being inconsiderate somehow? After all, who was I, who already had a seat and was sitting in it, to suggest bringing in “a chair —“! Had I walked in these people’s shoes? Hmmph. I wondered:
Maybe they’d had a bad experience with — Musical Chairs.
Maybe the chair had been pulled out from beneath them.
Maybe if I had used the word seat instead of chair….
Meanwhile the stadium was filling with magenta Cretaceous fog. The show’s soundtrack started with an intensity they couldn’t expect to sustain. Dinosaurs lumbered onto the stadium floor; I could see their computerized carts.
Mr. Security came back with a folding chair which, unlike ours, had four inches of padding. The Cluster stood in a semi-circle around it, studied it, took notes over it, and then shook their heads.
It would not do; it was not bolted to the ground like the rest of ours.
I was annoyed. A chair is a chair is a chair. Now there was a Seat #9. Why couldn’t they just sit down and shut up?!
For Pete’s sake — I would have sat in the chair!
But never mind. My attention was momentarily diverted to the narrator saying:
“There were no flowers before the Cretaceous. But insects came along and helped the ferns pollinate, so to thank the insects, plants started to grow flowers.”
Read that again. Really?
Great. The predictable evolutionary allusion to us all coming from monkeys. I pulled a crumpled receipt out of my purse and scribbled the quote on the back. When I looked up, the Cluster had disappeared.
“I bet they got front row seats,” Raspy Woman said. I noticed they’d left a sippy cup behind. Oh – now this was ripe! I could race down the stairs, waving the cup. I could stop them. Breathless, I could apologize: “I’m so sorry – I’m so sorry for suggesting they bring in a ‘chair’!” And then – wait for it — wait for it: “A ‘throne’ would have been so much more appropriate!”
Sometimes I crack myself up. But wait: what was that? I was jolted back to the present when one of the computerized carts started moving backwards, making the allosaurus look as if it were doing the moonwalk.
Simultaneously, all over the arena, a thousand flashbulbs went off.
Never mind what I said about us not coming from monkeys.
I was mad. I looked at Mark in disgust while he mouthed, “Told you so.” I imagined my first grade teacher rising out of the mist with great condescension and whining, “I’m soooorrrry, but because some of you are taking pictures so not follow the rules, you have ruined the treat for the rest!” The fog would cease, the lights dim, the dinosaurs would roll to a stop.
I couldn’t wait! Meanwhile, the magenta fog rolled and the soundtrack tried to sustain its frenetic energy. I stewed myself into a good frenzy. I rehashed the scenario of the “Cluster” and the camera-toting rule breakers again and again, analyzing, re-analyzing, and over-analyzing. I even imagined what Jesus might have done, hanging out and looking cool. Well, He probably would have called Raspy Woman to be his disciple: after all, she was loud like Peter.
I imagined myself at Princess Diana’s wedding. No one would have dared flout the rules there. No one would have hidden her camera in her purse. That’s where I deserved to be. A couple rungs up on the civilization ladder, that was for sure. Instead, here I was, tucked amidst the Great Unwashed Herd. For Pete’s sake, what was wrong with people?
Thank heavens I was not like them.
Fast forward to this past weekend. Camera and camcorder at my feet. This time we were on our way to see my niece in her high school’s production of Seussical. My sister-in-law was saying, “You’re not supposed to film because of copyright, but last night everyone was filming and taking pictures anyway.” “Yeah, I don’t know what the big deal is,” my husband agreed. It was the same conversation all over again, except that when the show started, I flipped open the camcorder and filmed a little here and a little there with nary a thought. Why not? She was doing great, and I love her!
During the intermission, I got up to get the kids some snacks. When I came back I found this marked-up program on my chair:
I had asked my hubby for his jacket during intermission because the room was cold. Now waves of heat were radiating off my skin, my heart was pounding, and sweat was beading on my forehead. I felt a sudden empathy for how Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov must have felt before he finally blurted, “I killed the old woman!” How dare that Invisible Someone call me on the carpet at my own game!
I had broken the rules — I was part of the Great Unwashed Herd after all!
While Horton cradled Maisy’s egg and Gertrude McFuzz flitted around him, every guilty moment from the age of four paraded before my eyes: Stolen Fizzies; boarding school chidings; thank you cards I’d never sent! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Eyes behind me burned into my back — those fingers that had grasped that black marker felt as if they were strangling me. I was suddenly exhausted and wanted nothing more than to go home and hide in a closet. On the way home, “Y’know –“, “After –“, “Why did we –” was all I could blurt to my husband, who, alternately concerned and frustrated, kept saying, “What on earth is wrong?!”
When I finally spit it out, all he did was laugh. He laughed! He saw my pained look. “Come on, Ev, they don’t know you.” (Why hadn’t I just given him the camera?!)
Now, a couple months later, something pretty profound is sinking in (stay with me!). As a Christian, I’ve learned that Christ’s payment for my sin through his death and resurrection frees me to live within his boundless grace. I am not restricted to having to follow a bunch of rules in order to please him. My head gets this, but sometimes my heart doesn’t. From the time I was very young I taught myself that behaving and following the rules would ensure approval, acceptance, and love — all of which felt really, really good.
The problem is, I get mad when people don’t follow the rules, because it takes the focus off of me and the rewards I think I deserve for my good behavior. So, the more I follow the rules, the more resentment I feel for the amoral masses. Following rules is also imprisoning, though, because I inevitably fail and so condemn myself. It doesn’t feel good to realize that I’m as creepy as the rest of them and it’s even worse when people like Black Marker Guy notice.
How can I extend Grace to others when I’m already condemning myself?
It boils down to this: I have no problem loving people except for when it comes to people. And that’s a problem when it comes to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Was Jesus’ irritation with the religious leaders of his day due partly to the fact that their focus on rules incapacitated their ability to be compassionate?
Consequently, where Grace would find potential and a possible disciple in the Great Unwashed Herd, within my snug behavioral boundaries I usually find fault.
Conversely, my rule-flouting, freedom-loving husband is the guy who extends grace all over the place — who always gives folks the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes it drives me crazy.
But I’m learning. After all, I love it when folks extend grace to me — especially my dentist — because for all all my introspection and soul-searching this morning, apparently I just missed an appointment.