On late night after a track meet, and coincidentally a Royals game, my friends and I went on a run to IHOP—the only restaurant still open at 11:30 PM. As we staggered in our track warm-ups toward the restaurant, we were preceded by a group of four adults donning their Royals caps and jerseys. One of the men in that group held the door, throwing it open silently, for each of us. The door-holding man smelled like cheap beer, and incoherence oozed from his tired face and sunken eyes.
Unlike this God-forsaken man, I would consider myself most sober; in fact, this is how life is meant to be. How am I to steer the horse of my life if I am focused on a feeling, a toxic tonic, that prohibits me from awareness and to which I would sell my reality? Life, as many told me, is meant to be experienced clearly and without distraction in order to focus on living, not to escape it. Living is claiming sovereignty over all that passes underneath you in life, suppressing all above you, king-like. I, fully imperfect and fully in denial of that fact, chose to stake my claim to the power and throne: a power I wielded to prove my righteousness and superiority by not participating in the deadly sin of drunkenness. My self-righteousness proved my narcissism and pride, securing the armor of my most arrogant self in the face of a drunk man’s errors.
We passed the reeking stench of hours-old beer, starving like peasants and craving an ice-cold drink. Suddenly, we were interrupted by the door-holding man asking us, “What events do you all run?” smacking his loose jaw and lips with each word.
Fazed, we all began to list off our best races to our inquirer. The man listened intently, his ears uncharacteristically sharp, as we buzzed around the oval between us five, and then he divulged with alcohol on his breath, “Wow, I don’t know how you all do those long races. I only ran the four hundred when I was in high school.”
In his confession, we could tell he wanted to take hold of the nostalgia that had overwhelmed his senses, continue to overindulge in some sort of sweet elixir, but this one of youth, for which he thirsted and pined the entire night. However, the door-holding man should have known better than to address teenage girls at night while intoxicated. The concoction of the past false goodness I claimed, I wanted to withhold from this man because he was not living life how it was meant to be: sober.
You see, my parents raised me in a home built on right and wrong, black and white. They hardly ever drank, and if they did, they only poured one glass of wine on the weekend. They showed me alcohol is bad for you in large quantities; however, as a child my mind equated consumption of alcoholic drinks with evil. And “evil” cannot love. “Evil” is not good, it cannot do good. This door-holding man—what could he be but this “evil” I had come to believe? The nostalgia of purity in youth he desired he should never regain.
But before the door-holding man could scrap for any more long-lost memories, he noticed his wife and friends walking away to be seated. He scurried away like a dirty plague-carrying rat. I, unable to see that the door-holding man was still in earshot, announced, “Man, that guy is so drunk!”
My friend, snapped her head around, “Annie, why are you talking so loud? Drunk people aren’t deaf.”
As I ate in the IHOP that night, I spoke as softly as the syrup spreading through the spongy stack of pancakes, ashamed that my snarky remarks may have pierced the door-holding man’s self-pride. My friends carried on talking, disregarding the door-holding man, yet I tried to justify my previous comments internally. Now, the door-holding man was drunk, yes; but he was the door-holding man after all, willing to show us respect despite what I regarded as incapacitation. Do these actions cancel out, I wondered? Then I remembered, he made an effort to hold a conversation with all of us; he was interested in who we were because he was once us too— a high school track athlete. So then, the question begged to be asked: could I be him at some point, the drunk door-holding man? Despite this, I, the self-proclaimed hero, decided to forget the entire picture and resolve to never be like this man because of his drunkenness. In my mind, he was therefore privy to all of the world’s problems.
When the time to pay the checks came, the door-holding man and his crew began to leave their booth, and the dining area, and the IHOP, but he made a detour to our table. He leaned into the oval once again to inform us, “I just wanted to tell you all I paid your checks, and I hope you all have a great track season.”
Yet again, stunned he was speaking to us, thieves underneath floodlights, our necks slowly readjusted so our eyes could find each other. Stilled, stunned, subtly confused by the kindness of this stranger. More than that, I was taken aback by the compassion of someone I felt could not do any good due to a single determining circumstance.
I, my own knight-in-shining-armor, committed the worst evil of all atop my moral high horse, an evil not against myself, but against those I condemned “evil.” That night at IHOP, I learned no matter how highly I may regard my own efforts toward following every rule in the Book, I am still capable of stewarding hate and disdain towards the people who, exactly like me, continue to mess up over and over again. No matter how poorly I may perceive someone, they can show compassion and love towards others, and perhaps grace too. The irony in all of this mess is that I, the self-supposed good guy, was the one incapable of loving the “evil.” And perhaps that “evil” manifested itself within my hardened heart.
In my shock, I was bucked off my high horse of moral supremacy, my self-proclaimed temperance was in free-fall between the feigned stallion’s saddle and hooves of human humility. I still live in free-fall, only inches closer than before to the horseshoe. In my falling, I can see more clearly my own faults and offer more generosity to the faults of others. Despite this, my judgement persists; I find myself continuing to use the “holier than thou” rhetoric when I think about partying here at college. I find myself denouncing the act as though it were evil or a grave crime against all of humanity and all of heaven. I am a tyrant. My mind and soul foolishly attempt to reverse my deep dive into reality, to clamber for the remaining scraps of false perfection I leave behind from a former life. The more I reach to return, the harder I tumble towards the uneven surface of reality. As I approach reality and its unforgiving, dirty nature, I fear the pain of the collision into the earth and eventual settling into what is true and messy. Maybe I won’t crash onto the floor of reality, only pass into it, reemerging grounded on the other side with a starvation for life like a drowning gasp for air. Perhaps I, too, like the door-holding man, will be subjected to the high horse of another human. And, perhaps, I would willfully pull them forcefully from the stirrups towards the warm, grounded, and living surface.