Two weeks after I returned from Afghanistan, I took a ride on my new motorcycle. I left my apartment in downtown Colorado Springs and headed northwest towards Garden of the Gods, an iconic rock formation laced with delightful, twisty roads. A few miles from the Garden, a rag-top Jeep packed with teenagers pulled up alongside me. They were loud and seemed drunk. The driver yelled something at me from the open window. I ignored him and slowly opened the throttle, so as to communicate that I was irritated but not intimidated. The driver kept yelling. I ignored him.
As I began to accelerate, the Jeep swerved sharply into my lane. I leaned hard left and barely avoided colliding with the Jeep. I was forced into the eastbound lane, and was about 100 meters from a head-on collision with an oncoming vehicle. I shifted down two gears, opened the throttle all the way and, in the absence of prayer, focused on a fixed point and tried to suspend consideration of any moment in my past or future.
I narrowly avoided a head-on collision. I cycled through a side-show of emotion, but landed on rage. Two weeks prior I had lived in a world in which ending the lives of foolish young men – killing them – was a matter of routine, of little consequence. As I surveyed the extent of my own fury, I came upon a red light and stopped alongside the Jeep of Foolish Young Men. Nothing happened apart from my grotesque fantasies.
Those teenagers – those children – had effectively tried to kill me. Had I been armed, it is likely I’d have made a decision that would’ve drastically altered the course of my life and of countless others. Fortunately, I wasn’t armed. I flipped the finger to the driver, made an obscene gesture to a young lady in the vehicle, and abruptly sped away.
That experience and others like it are why I will never carry a firearm in my private life. I do not want the option of killing. I do not want to make the decision. As a soldier at war, I could process threats and hazards and attempts to kill me as challenges to an idea, to an order, but not to me as an individual sentient being. As flawed as that model is, it was effective and I had very little trouble controlling my anger within the context of combat. I don’t have an equivalent model for my private life, so instead I deny myself the weapons that can transform impotent rage into genuine tragedy.
Doing so is liberating. I don’t have to make The Decision. I can have arguments. I can piss people off. I can escalate conflicts. I can fully experience anger and fear and indignation and blinding, paralyzing rage without the possibility that my reaction will cause limitless human suffering.
I’m proud of none of this. I’d be more comfortable if I didn’t have to protect against my own lack of self-discipline. It’s a part of myself I conceal. What’s terrifying is that I know I’m not unique, I’m not deviant. I know that plenty of men react to threat and provocation in the same manner. I understand the impulse to retaliate. I don’t understand the impulse to make he consequences permanent.