I try to maintain my temper… to “keep my cool,” as it were. And I’ve gotten much better at it as I’ve mellowed into old age. Perhaps mellowed and old age are not an accurate description of the process. It might, more conceivably, be described as stumbling into decrepitude. Be that as it may, I’m much less prone, for the most part, to fly off the handle and scream at some jerk—or should I say, a beloved child of God in whom He is well-pleased—who has cut me off in traffic and is in desperate need of me smacking the mustard out of him until I feel better.
I try. I really do. But this one time… well, I was tired! Maybe that’s why I lost it.
The Buddha says, “You are not punished for your anger, but by your anger.” And I have learned that carrying my anger around with me only serves to cause me pain. At various times also sadness, heartburn, headaches, flushed face, grinding teeth, aching Temporal Mandibular Joints and, occasionally, uncontrollable flatulence. The symptoms are varied and numerous. But the bottom line is that my anger—and our anger belongs to no one else but ourselves—only exists to my detriment. So I try various means to release my anger.
But some things still get under my skin and I react more passionately than I would like.
More than a decade ago, I was producing a monthly television program for the local branch of the Arthritis Foundation. One of their fundraisers was to take part in the Honolulu Marathon. The concept was that you cajoled your friends, family and associates into making a donation to the Arthritis Foundation in support of your bid to complete a marathon. If you got to a certain threshold, you were then provided with airfare to Honolulu, a hotel room and entry into the race.
During my production of the monthly show, I became swept up in the excitement of the upcoming experience and I decided to participate. Surprisingly, I raised more than enough funds needed to participate in the event. I have some wonderful and generous friends. So, in that long-ago December, I found myself winging my way to The Islands.
I knew many of the people from my area there, as I had interviewed and practiced with some of the individuals from my area. It was all quite exciting. It was not my first trip to Oahu, but I was in a nice hotel and was reveling in the excitement. I was quite nervous as to whether I’d actually survive the ordeal, but I categorized it as excitement.
I’d never attempted something as monumental as a marathon. And please don’t give me more props than I deserve. I wasn’t planning on running it. I was well aware of my lack of physical conditioning and had told all of those who donated to my campaign that I planned on walking the 26.2 miles. And I always emphasized the point-two part. When I first broached to my friends the prospect of making a donation, they always said something like, “Are you serious? That’s 26 miles!” I’d reply with, “Point-two! It’s twenty-six point-two miles.”
As an aside here, it’s that point-two that gets you. For the life of me, I do not understand why they don’t put that at the beginning of the race when you’re more refreshed and energetic. But there’s nothing to be accomplished by bemoaning that now.
The afternoon before the race, we had a huge pool-side meeting with all of the team members from the Los Angeles area. I can’t recall the name of our coach, but he was some former marathoner and he was giving us all one last pep talk. At this point, it really didn’t matter whether I finished the race or not. The donations had already been made. But, for me, it was a matter of pride. I even had one friend who said, “I know you won’t finish, but I’ll donate in honor of you trying…” So, I was determined to complete the course, even if it was the last thing I did. And there was a strong chance it would be.
The only thing I can remember from that pep talk was the coach saying, “When you cross that finish line, and you bow your head and they place that medal around your neck, and it slaps against your chest, you’ll know you’ve accomplished something!”
That image was visceral and inspiring. Envisioning it is what got me through the ordeal.
We were in the hotel banquet room at 5:00am for breakfast. The race began at 6:00. We made our way, en masse, along the few miles to the starting line; more and more people joining the procession as we walked. I’m thinking, “Great! There’s another two miles that they don’t tell you about!”
When the race began, promptly at 6:00, I found myself barely moving. Tens of thousands of people commenced shuffling towards the starting line; my electronic tag beeping loudly as I finally crossed. The crowd began to thin out as people moved into their individual paces, but for the first few miles, I was still in the center of an enormous crowd.
For some reason, probably because they own most of the Islands, this marathon is very popular with the Japanese. Thousands come from Japan to participate along with many of those who now live on the Islands. As you may guess, they are extremely polite. My intention, as I said, was to walk the course, so I was in no hurry to fight with the throngs and I set my pace and let people pass me as they desired. But as many of the Japanese people shoved past me, a large percentage of them offered encouragement. I do not understand Japanese, but so many of them presented the same reassurance to me, I can still hear it. Phonetically, it sounded like, “Moov ovuh whayuhl boy!” A truly inspiring experience I shall never forget. Still brings a tear to my eye.
With that early encouragement, coupled with an over-sized hip pack loaded with energy bars, I rocketed through the course in an eye-watering nine hours and thirty-six minutes.
I’ve never been in so much pain in my life. And I’ve been married twice.
As I’d crossed the 20-mile mark, my entire focus was on my feet, while words like searing, molten, liquefied, inferno, and scorching blazed through my mind. And I still had six point-two miles to go! At around the 23-mile I saw an officer working traffic control and I begged him to shoot me.
I came around the iconic Diamond Head and my eyes could barely focus. All I saw were a few houses and a large clump of dirt. Remembering that The Islands were home to a plethora of Polynesian deities, I clenched my teeth together and refrained from any disparaging appellations as to my opinion of how lackluster it looked up close, through eyeballs that were actually sweating.
Over the course of the last two point-two miles, I repeated the phrase F—you! on my right step and, on my left, I uttered the name of the friend who said I wouldn’t finish. That and the thought of that medal slapping against my chest carried me to the finish line.
As I staggered down the final chute to the finish line, I saw many of my Japanese friends who’d offered me encouragement so many hours before. They all looked cool and refreshed; some sipping energy drinks and others held coconuts with straws and tiny umbrellas protruding from the top.
Nine hours and thirty-six minutes. That’s what my certificate said. I accepted it at the post-race table and then asked directions to my medal ceremony. The lady said, “Oh. I think there’s a few left in one of those boxes over there. If you find one, you can have it.”
I kept my cool. I found one and when I stooped to retrieve it, I almost lost my balance. Amazing how weak your quadriceps muscles get after nine-and-a-half hours of constant walking. I put my own medal over my neck and, somehow, found a ride back to my hotel.
I was proud of myself for not losing my temper when I had to dig my own medal out of some old cardboard box. It wasn’t something at which I’d normally get angry, but I was exhausted. Even though I’d looked forward to the honor of being awarded my medal—Heck! It got me through the race!—I kept my cool.
Until the next morning.
I was so sore that I could barely get out of bed. I managed a shower and was preparing to go to the buffet and meet some of the other participants from my area. As I was getting dressed, I noticed the phone on the desk. The phone at this hotel had a million buttons next to the touch pad. You know how some hotels have a list of services with their associated extensions right beside the phone? This one had a button right on the phone for each and my eyes fell upon the word Massage.
Ohhhh, yesssss…. That’s what I needed! I would treat myself to a massage!
I picked up the receiver and pressed the button next to Massage. I heard one ring and then the phone disconnected. Strange, I thought. I kept the phone at my ear and depressed and released the hook-switch and then, again, the button for massage. Same result.
Damn! This was frustrating! I felt my temper flaring. How freakin’ difficult could this be?! I’d just walked an entire marathon and I want a massage! My quads and, if the truth be told, every other muscle in my body had begun to pulsate deliriously with the idea of a massage and now the stupid extension for the spa or salon or whatever was not functioning!
I slammed the handset into the cradle and instantly yanked it back up and pressed it to my ear. I stopped a millimeter away from touching the Front Desk button. No, I thought, I need to meet my friends in a few minutes so I’ll just stop at the front desk and inform them face-to-face as to my frustrations!
I stomped—as best I could in my condition—down the hall and depressed the elevator call button 400,000 times. Once inside, I did the same to the Lobby button. I burst—waddled—from the elevator and marched—quavered—myself to the front desk. I was immediately welcomed by some 20-year-old male model who greeted me with, “Good morning, sir!” spoken through dozens of gleaming teeth. “How may I assist you?!”
Listen you Tom-Cruise-looking— Wait. Calm yourself before you speak…
I cleared my throat. Even in my mounting indignation, I knew it wasn’t his fault. But he was standing before me as a representative of the hotel and my frustration at the stupidity of their phone system compelled me to vent a little steam in his direction. I also realize that if you lose your temper, it can cause you to perceive something inaccurately or to say things that you do not mean and would, under calmer circumstances, never consider uttering. So I endeavored to keep mounting fury under control and I’d give him the opportunity to explain.
Still, with clenched teeth, I began to explain how I’d participated in the marathon the previous day; indicating with a thump to my chest my international-orange t-shirt proclaiming me a “finisher.” Then, my breathing beginning to increase, I commenced to explain that I’d tried to call the extension for a massage.
I noticed a slight wrinkle in his brow and the corners of his mouth twitched almost imperceptibly. But, in my heightened sense of awareness as my blood flow increased, I perceived some amusement on his behalf at my anger. Was my frustration humorous to him?!
I began to boil inside as I pushed ahead with my explanation of how I’d repeatedly depressed the massage button, how every time it rang once and then disconnected. My throat was choking on my words and my chest was noticeably rising and falling with exaggerated breaths.
He cocked his head and looked me directly in the eye. The corners of his mouth curled even more, yet he did not openly smile. The best I can describe to you his expression was that it was as if he were trying to determine if I was somehow teasing with him; as if I were making some kind of joke! At that point I almost completely lost it. I’m obviously frustrated at how their equipment is malfunctioning. He should be concerned about that! He should also be concerned about the hotel’s lost revenue were I unable to schedule a massage! Yet he was acting as if I were loony or making a joke or… what?!?!
He hesitated a moment longer and then, drawing eyebrows down between his eyes said, “It says, ‘message’.” He smiled openly.
The realization of my stupidity slowly dawned across my face.
“If someone calls the hotel and leaves you a message, you can retrieve it by pushing—“
“Yes,” I interrupted him, waving my hand indicating my understanding. I blinked a few times and said, “Uhhh… How can I schedule a massage?”
He held a long look. My face was red and I actually chuckled at my numbskullery.
“I can take care of that right here, sir.”