My bike was stolen this last week.
It happened in broad daylight, whilst I was teaching my first class of the term. At 12:30pm, I parked my bike at the library on campus, locked it up with my Knog-lock, and headed off to class (located in the basement of the library). At 2:10pm, I left class, walked out of the library, and stopped. Bikes were, certainly, parked at the bike lock; my bike was gone. Looking down, my lock had clearly been severed by a bolt-cutter.
Whether we credit the generalization of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's work to include all forms of loss (and not just, as it was originally intended, towards terminal diagnoses), I did not, personally, follow her trajectory in this case. I seemed to shift straight from denial: 'Hey - where's my bike?' to acceptance: 'My bike has been stolen.'
Calmly, I collected the remnants of my lock, and walked up the hill to security. I lodged my incident report, and proceeded to issue a formal report of theft to the Portland Police Bureau.
Neither despondent nor angry, I still had to get home. Luckily, I live four miles from campus, and - it being a warm, clear day - I surmised that I would walk. I called my spouse, and we talked about what I was experiencing. She was, and is on my behalf, angry. I had been wronged. I had been violated. I did not disagree with her, but I could not rest with the indignation of being affronted. I was unable at the time to communicate what, exactly, I was experiencing in lieu of anger, depression, or other emotions.
It was upon hanging up, and being left to my own self and cognitions, that the Quaker missive began running, on repeat, through my head:
Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern? Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it. When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people's opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. - Advices & Queries 1•17
This is what was preventing me from anger, pity, depression, and other emotions I, typically, associate with being affronted. The person who robbed me was, and is, a person no less. The Quaker belief is that there is 'that of God in everyone,' and this person was, and is, no exception to that rule. On those grounds, upon being unable to not reflect upon this, I replayed the situation of my affront from a different angle.
'12:30pm, in broad daylight, from the center of a university campus; the best choice for me to make is to steal this bike.' This must have been the thought process - however addled by mental illness, drug addiction, despair, greed, disenfranchisement, selfishness, or otherwise - of the 'perpetrator,' as the police and society deem them.
As I began reflecting on this line of thought, I realized that I was depressed, in a way. I was depressed for this individual: that their life must have taken so many negative turns that when confronted with the option of harming the relationship towards another human being, they would choose to do so. As a professor of anthropology, I am oft to harp on the necessity of society; that humans are, inherently, social creatures. This member of society has been so margianalized that the 'best' choice for them to make would be to further margianalize themselves.
When confronted with the reality that I had been affronted, that I had been wronged, it was my Quaker beliefs which drew me back towards a tacit appreciation of the intrsubjectivity of lived experience. These beliefs reified that we are not humans in a vacuum, that we are in a deeply intricate web of human significance - to botch a quote by Geertz. For good or ill, these beliefs both pacified my own inclination towards anger, and reminded me of the pain and suffering of the one who inflicted affront.
I thank you for allowing me the space to process my emotions of affront. Far be it for me, however, to rest on reflection. I would like to end on a note of question, to which I greatly encourage response:
Photo Credit: Portland Bureau of Transportation
How do your religious traditions inform you, keep you, and direct you in responding to being affronted?
Joseph is a professor, Quaker, husband, and friend. He teaches anthropology and humanities courses for a liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon. He commutes by bike, plays guitar, and enjoys fine Scotch, wines, and foods with his wife. Current projects include: Workshop seminars on the intersection of Christian Theology and Western Pop-Culture; Collaborative immersion projects for students within religious communities divergent to their own.