Last week, after delivering some sage advice at the Brevard County Chaplain’s Conference, I closed a perfect 14-hour day with some humorous musings before a community crowd at the neighboring Florida Institute of Technology.
At evening’s end, I was feeling pretty good as I walked to the parking lot with my host, Sarah Bragdon. However, even as I was unlocking the doors, I knew that I wasn’t exactly sober. No, I hadn’t been drinking; simply highly intoxicated with the successes of the day.
Two years ago, I was so likewise intoxicated with success that I failed to notice my speed through the neighboring city of Indialantic. While the police officer didn’t share my enthusiasm of myself, she did grant me a moment of grace.
In light of that Indialantic experience, I considered asking Sarah to be my designated driver, but she wasn’t on the rental car contract. Perhaps I should have humbly asked her to be my designated backseat driver, but I was too full of myself to add the necessary helping of humble pie.
Ten minutes later, we drove over the coastal causeway bridge and into the territory of my previous stop. Just as Sarah was about to caution me about my speed, a police officer welcomed me back onto Indialantic turf.
I handed over my California license to the officer, and he soon reciprocated by handing me a pen. My opinion of myself sometimes knows no boundary. Did he want my autograph? Nope. He only wanted me to sign the speeding ticket that he had so graciously reduced to only 6 mph over the speed limit.
It didn’t take long for the funk to set in. With as much grief counseling as I do, I readily recognized my funk as being part of the normal phases of grief articulated by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. And here’s how those played out for me that day.
The denial stage started as I tried to explain that I was simply following the directions of my host. I rationalized that I’d entered the causeway through a riverfront park and that I never saw a speed limit sign.
Later, back in the Bragdon’s guest room, the anger slipped in and I found sleep to be illusive.
The bargaining stage came the next day as I joked with my host who “knows” people. “Don’t you know someone that can do something about this?” But I’m not sure I was really joking.
Depression came during the last day of my trip as I calculated both my financial loss and the work time I’d lose in traffic school.
The truth is that everyday life is full of disappointments like speeding tickets, failed relationships and financial losses. Dealing with these disappointments isn’t the same as dealing with the loss of a loved one, but what my ticket tells me is that these everyday losses are still subject to a natural grief process.
Acceptance is the last stage of grief and the toughest one. It’s the one where you finally admit what a blockhead you are and you follow the instructions on the speeding ticket to complete the legal process. In other words, you commit yourself to the learning process.
Gratefully, the learning process never ends. As I walked into the Bragdon’s home, I was met by their daughter’s dog, a Jack Russell named Diego. Quickly I learned why the neighbors nicknamed him “Diablo.” The little devil dog bit me. However, this time I went immediately into acceptance and was soon able to make a friend.