In March 1993 two bad things happened: (1) My kindergarten age son’s favorite riverside play area, “Magic Island,” was flooded, and when the waters receded, the area was covered in garbage. (2) Someone shot the windows out of my car, which was parked right in front of my house.
I was so angry about my car. I didn’t even bother with feeling worried or scared. Natural fighter that I am, I went directly into rage. Adrenaline was pumping through my body, and my heart was beating through my chest. I was shaking all over, ready to find the culprit and pound the crap out of him! That was my first reaction.
Through the inner roar that demanded revenge, I managed to hear a small, quiet voice: “You have a choice. You don’t have to respond with violence. You can choose peace instead of this.” I listened, but I didn’t know what to do with all that “violent energy” surging through my body. I NEEDED to hit somebody!
Then I remembered the playground, and it occurred to me that I could use my surplus energy to pick up garbage. I thought, “I’ll just pick up as much as it takes to get rid of this emotional super charge.” And so I grabbed a box of garbage bags and loaded my son and his friend into our truck, and we headed for Magic Island.
All I can say is that it took a long, LONG time to dissipate the energy. In fact, I filled over 20 giant garbage bags as full as I could get them. Add to that the work the boys did, and we pretty much cleaned up the flood’s footprint from Magic Island. When it was over, I was so tired and so happy. I had turned my violent rage into something useful and helpful and hopeful.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. The next morning while driving to work, the Mayor noticed the change on Magic Island and called the Parks Director to thank him. Of course, the Parks Director knew nothing about it. Enter the local press with the front-page newspaper headline: “Mayor wants do-gooders to come clean.” My best friend in Illinois turned us in. I had shared the story with her, and she’s the one who ended up calling the Mayor’s office to tell the tale. A couple of weeks later, the my son, his friend, and I received a Mayor’s Award for Community Spirit.
The best part, though, was the follow-up newspaper article in which I told my story about turning something negative into something positive in order to stop the cycle of violence. For many weeks thereafter, local pastors used the story in Sunday sermons, and something amazing happened as people began spontaneously getting together to pick up garbage all over the city. I’m still amazed by it all!
And so, next time you hear a quiet voice from inside telling you that you have a choice, believe it. We always have choices. We can choose to react out of fear, revenge, or self-righteous anger . . . or we can make choices and take actions that will lift us into a higher place, into a new, more peaceful way of being.