Writings by Cole Huffman

The Upside of Anger

I have not been cussed like that ever in my life, even by my profanest high school coach.

We were on vacation last week, staying at some friends’ lovely beachside condominium.  On Thursday one of my daughters and I transported a few sacks of finish-out-the-week groceries up the elevator to our place on the seventh floor.  We utilized a luggage cart which I then returned to the ground floor garage.  Through that garage is the main walkway to the pools and beach. 

Upon my return to the ground floor, the elevator door opened to a narrow hallway full of people.  I navigated the cart—a most awkward thing to steer even when empty—to one of the entry-exit doors.  If only I had been a minute later!
She came at me from around the wall separating the two entry-exit doors.  “You ought to learn how to say, ‘EXCUSE ME!’” she bellowed at me with an expletive and look of complete disgust on her face.  Without a blink I instantly bristled and with a wave of my hand said, “You don’t tell me what to do! Go back inside!”
It was, shall we say, on.
My dismissive response to her “invective corrective” threw a switch in her.  It’s the switch that controls the urge to embarrass oneself in public.  She took a menacing step toward me.  I said, “What are you going to do?” and took two steps toward her.  We stood toe-to-toe.  I’m 6’4”, 200 lbs.  She is not.  I am white.  She is black.
She looked up in my face and blistered me more in 62 seconds than the Florida sun could do to me in 62 minutes.  Her words were vile and racist, unjustifiably disproportionate to the perceived offense.  Those awaiting the elevators were suddenly ringside to a one-sided verbal smackdown.  I was painfully aware of her two small children and mother watching wide-eyed behind her.  Thankfully, none of my children were there.
I stood there and took what she dished out, keeping my hands folded behind my back in a gesture of passive but firm ground-standing.  I never raised my voice or responded in kind to her words.  I simply said, “You are rude, ma’am, go inside,” whenever she took a breath.  The proverb about the gentle answer turning away wrath had kicked in—late, but it did kick in.  She bumped me once and for a moment I feared she would slap me (it was the way she was flailing her arms, like a snake coiling itself to strike).  But after a minute of vitriol she began backing away toward the elevators.  I kept standing in place.  Finally, she went in an elevator door, still screaming obscenities at me.  When she was gone everyone looked at each other, then at me with nervous grins.  I shrugged.  Two teenage girls told me they wouldn’t have taken that.  “Well, I’m not going to hit a woman,” I answered flatly.  “Some people are just angry at everyone, girls.”
That altercation bothered me deeply the rest of the day.  I simply wished I’d ignored her.  Where did my usual restraint go in that moment?  No, I didn’t yell at her or intend harm to her.  But why did I ever let myself say, “You don’t tell me what to do!”  I debated whether to tell Lynn about it and finally did that night during a family stroll on the beach.  We didn’t tell the children.
On Saturday we were taking in our final beach and pool hours when I noticed the woman walking down the beach.  She was with what appeared to me to be her sister and their children and parents.  They were splashing the children and enjoying themselves.  I pointed her out to Lynn and sighed.
Between the two swimming pools at the condo was a small heated pool with Jacuzzi jets.  I sat in it a lot during the week, even in the heat, because the massaging water felt good on muscles I abuse in exercising at 42 like I’m still 22.  I was enjoying my final time in it when the woman’s family walked up.  I hoped with sunglasses on and submerged in the water she wouldn’t recognize me.  I sensed she did though.  She said nothing and opted to get into the other pool beside us. 
But her daughter, my Caley Kate’s age, jumped in the hot pool with Caley and me.  Caley Kate, my nomination for the World’s Friendliest Child, instantly said to her daughter, “Do you want to be friends?”  The little girl said “Sure!” and they exchanged names and began playing in the water as eight-year-olds do.  I noticed out of the corner of my eye that her mom, my Clubber Lang, was keeping a close watch our way.
It was finally time to collect the kids and go.  We had dinner plans that night.  I announced to my children that I was returning to the beach to collect things we left there and then we’d go inside and cleanup for dinner.  When I came back from the beach Lynn happened to be poolside, placing towels on our kids.  With Caley Kate’s “Do you want to be friends?” reverberating in my brain for the last half hour in an almost Augustinian way, I decided to approach my vacation adversary.  Her family and mine were the only ones there.
I looked down at her gliding in the pool.  “Are you the one with whom I had an altercation at the elevators a couple of days ago?”  She stopped and stood in the water, looking up at me squint-eyed in the sun. “Yes, I am,” she said with what seemed to me a hint of defiance. “Would you please forgive me my part in our getting sideways?” I asked.  She made her way toward the steps to exit the pool and said, “Yes!” with exuberance.  With Lynn standing there observing I said, “May I give you a hug?”  And we embraced one of the sweetest embraces I’ve ever enjoyed.  It was genuine forgiveness.
It is a genuine gospel that renders me even capable of wanting that reconciliation.  It’s a strange favorite moment for a vacation, I’ll admit.  But gospel moments are always the best.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 10:45 PM
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