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Self and System

Okay, I'm driving into work this one morning and was going to do my standard thing that some students say would make them gesture to me rudely--go the speed limit. I do this because I get frustrated by going along with everyone else.

Everyone else is driving 78 miles per hour and I'm not going to! I'm going to go exactly 65 miles per hour and slow down and be an example for the others to follow!

And so I kept a close eye on my speedometer and a close eye on the clock. And I was choosing my speed by when I would actually arrive at school. I know the trip well enough to know how fast and at what point I need to pick up speed in order to reach the parking lot by 7:30 which is always my goal.

I was defining myself through the rules of the road system. I was being the perfect example. I was setting myself apart from everyone else. I had chosen to define myself through the system, somehow thinking that it would make me better than those around me. I didn't like how angry they seemed to be. Speeding always seems to be rooted in Impatience--one of Anger's little brothers.

And I knew--knew!--I was missing out somehow. And finally, frustrated with the idea of being defined by the numbers denoting speed and the numbers defining time, I blindly screwed up my dashboard clock, and promised myself not to look again at the speedometer. Then I rolled down both windows, started screaming the words to the Beatles' song that was playing in the Pathfinder, and started paying attention to what was going on around me.

It brought me into an awareness of the landscape. The trip between Mount Vernon and Cedar Rapids is darned pretty--even in the tundra-dry winter. I'd forgotten.

And I became aware--and this important--of the relationship I was having with the other people in the other cars. Instead of considering how fast they were going in relationship to the speed limit, or how they were obstacles keeping me from maintaining my position as smooth-cog-in-big-machine, they became people. The bearded guy drove a beat-up little chrysler and wore a baseball cap that was frayed around the bill. The woman in the ford pick-up was talking or singing to herself while she smoked. The guy in the impala was riding other folksí bumpers and then screaming by them when they slid back into the right lane.

These people were each caught up in their own frustrations or pleasures or little rages or races or smirks or joys. I was moving along with a group of individuals and I was getting to know them in terms of who they were in their vehicles. And my relationship with them was defined in the way our cars all surrounded each other and moved around from lane to lane and traveled at the same time along the same road to the same city.

You know, John Proctor in Arthur Millerís play The Crucible wasnít out to fight the system. It had nothing to do with fighting the system simply because he didnít like the system--because he disagreed on ideological grounds. It had everything to do with doing what he knew was right--even in the face of retribution.

Because, in the end it deals with interacting with other individuals and with oneís own weary self and being the kind of person you know is right--the kind of person that is most honestly YOU.

I'll embrace the Harlequin to myself, I suppose, and although I may never put on a clown suit and dump 150 thousand dollars worth of jelly beans in the cogs of society, I will not allow the Machine to define me, and from time to time I'll spit in its eye. But itís not about being part of the system or not being part of the system. Itís about being true to yourself--with yourself and in relation to others--no matter what.

Love to you all.

The Ninth Circle

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