There is perhaps some justification for this. As Nancy Pearcey noted in her outstanding book Total Truth, “From the beginning, feminism was marked by considerable anger and envy – not toward individual men so much as toward the fact of the opportunities available to men in the public sphere.”*
But it wasn’t just the feminism. Being a libertarian contributed to the problem. By definition, I had long rejected virtually all authority, and resented anyone telling me what to do. That was one of the reasons I hadn’t even considered quitting my three-pack-a-day habit; who were they to tell me I shouldn’t smoke? Which of course paved the way for my feeling persecuted by the anti-smoking Nazis of the world – persecuted and ready to blow up.
And blow up I did. Once during a luncheon with a militantly pure-of-lung friend, I let a bit of my smoke drift in her direction, and she fanned the offending plume away from her nose. She hadn’t said a word, but the wave of her hand was enough for me. In my fury, I let loose with the worst insult I could think of: “Oh, and I suppose you like Bill Clinton, too!”
She looked at me as if I’d lost my mind – and indeed I had for the moment it took me to spit out this non sequitur.
Then there was an incident in the Detroit airport, when our flight from the Bahamas got diverted from Milwaukee because of a snow storm, and we were trapped out on a runway for several extra smoke-free hours. The customs official who finally welcomed us into the terminal didn’t appreciate my lighting up the moment I walked through the door, nor did he appreciate the words I hurled at him when he asked me – really, quite politely, I have to admit – to put my cigarette out.
Fortunately, my pure-of-lung lunch-mate forgave me, and I didn’t end up in a federal prison over the near-scuffle with the customs official. But some of my eruptions no doubt did have long-term consequences – especially when they were directed at my mother.
Perhaps the worst incident of all occurred on the Christmas Eve before she got sick. I was taking her back to the nursing home after a present-opening night at our house, with both my sisters and their families and even a visiting dog to chase my cats.
My mother had clearly had a nice time with us; she had been all smiles, all evening.
And then, alone with me in my rusting Chevy Blazer, barreling up nearly deserted Barker Road, she sighed.
“I hate having to go back to the old ladies’ home,” she said. “I have that awful aide tonight, the one who’s so rough with me, and –“
“I can’t believe you!” I snapped, looking at her with my most outraged expression, sure that she was not-so-subtly hinting that she would like to come live with us. “You’re sweetness and light all night long, until you’re alone with me – and then all you can do is complain!”
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen her look so sad.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “It’s just that you’re the only one I can talk to about these things.”
“Well, I can’t do anything about it,” I said, calmer now and already feeling guilty. I knew I’d need a good hour or two to think this one through until I found a way to justify my outburst. “Anyway, if you would just be a little nicer to this aide, maybe she’d be nicer to you.”
As it turned out, I never was able to justify what I’d said to her that night. I wept over it more than once, and to this day cringe whenever I remember it. I think I see it as a symbol of all the pain I had caused her over our lives together, of all the times I’d trashed the wonderful things God had given me.
There were other such incidents throughout my life, most directed at other people – scores of them, no doubt. I guess it doesn’t matter that I’ve forgotten the details. What matters is that it doesn’t have to happen again; the Lord seems to have freed me from this oppression.
And yet, amazing God, He has seen my contrite heart and forgiven me even for this. And more: As Isaac Watts wrote in his 1707 hymn “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed?”:
Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
(From Heaven Without Her, pages 198-200)