In the first, my brother-in-law and his wife, who is my wife's sister, were towing their boat to Lake Cumberland in southern Kentucky. They were on a narrow, winding country pike that had more to offer in scenic vistas than it did in travel efficiency—especially in the case where one was towing a large boat. So while the view was pastoral, and the mood pleasant, the pace was leisurely at best.
All seemed right with the world until a fellow in a battered pick-up truck came up behind them and started trying to pass. The frequent bends and hills and the resulting profusion of double yellow lines on the tarmac made this a dicey proposition, and the inability to get around my brother-in-law's rig apparently worked havoc on the other driver's capacity for patience. When he was finally able to pass, he did so with more commotion and speed than was probably necessary. He also felt compelled for some reason to flip my in-laws the bird as he came by—final evidence that he was ripe for a comeuppance.
Now after this fellow passed, my brother-in-law noticed a brand new gas grill in the bed of the truck, tethered to one side by some twine and several bungee cords. We surmise now that the fellow was in a hurry to get the appliance home so he could begin cooking a Sunday repast. Perhaps he was having friends and family over for a barbecue. Perhaps he had stolen the grill, and thought he was being pursued by its rightful owners, or the local constabulary, or both. Whatever the reason for his haste, it continued unabated after he had passed...unabated that is until the truck hit a bump in the road. At this point things started to come apart, quite literally, in the pick-up truck.
The lid of the grill flew open and caught a great scoopful of air at something north of 60 miles per hour. The resulting pressure over-strained the twine and elastic bindings holding the grill to the side of the truck. At the same time bits and pieces from inside the grill started flying about, taking wing like so many celebratory doves released at an elaborate wedding. The grill itself slid backwards and crashed into the tailgate with such force as to cause it to unlatch and fall open. By this time the driver had realized what was happening and slammed on his brakes. The grill, now unfettered and free as the still flying bits and pieces, skidded forward in the bed and crashed headlong into the back of the cab, shattering the back window in the process.
The flying debris settled, some of it on the roadway, and my brother-in-law picked his way carefully through the mess, passed the now parked truck, and proceeded on his leisurely way to the lake. The driver of the pick-up truck did not flip him another bird as he passed. He was, it would seem, sufficiently chastened by the karma he had invited.
The second of my brother-in-law's tales also has to do with his boat. In this story he had arrived at the lake on another occasion and was backing the boat on its trailer down the incline to the ramp where he would launch the boat. He stopped some yards short of the water to prepare the boat for launching. He inserted the plug into the drain hole in the stern, and loosed the straps that secured the boat to the trailer.
While he was thus engaged another driver backed another boat and trailer down the incline next to him. Now, while there was more than sufficient room on the ramp to launch two boats at the same time, the other driver, owing either to lack of skill or a level of meanness that would be unusual in most week-end boaters, jackknifed his trailer behind my brother-in-law's rig in such a way as to take up twice as much room as he needed and thus deny my brother-in-law access to the ramp and the water.
My brother-in-law is not one to suffer fools lightly. He has no patience for incompetence. He has even less patience when that incompetence manifests itself in ways that are also inconsiderate. He was ready to launch his boat, and this fool was in his way. He was not about to give the guy a pass.
“Hey,” he protested as the guy got out of his SUV, “you're in my way. You need to pull your boat back up the ramp so I can launch.”
The guy, for reasons we can only guess at, was not agreeable at this point. “I'll only be a minute,” he said.
My brother-in-law did not like this answer very much, and so he suggested again, this time with a righteous peppering of expletives, that the fellow needed to get the hell out of his way so he could launch his boat, that he had been there first, that any fool could see there was room for two boats to launch, but this particular fool had managed to botch a simple operation like backing a boat trailer down a ramp in such a fashion as to render the commodious facility useless to anyone but himself.
“I already told you,” the guy said, “I will be through in a minute.”
So my brother-in-law watched with mounting fury while the guy launched his boat, tied it up to the dock, and left his wife watching over it while he finally pulled his trailer out of the water and drove off to the parking area about a hundred yards up the bank. Able at last to launch his own boat, my brother-in-law left his wife in charge of their boat, which was tied to the opposite dock. As he was pulling his trailer up the incline toward the parking area, the other fellow's wife came frantically pounding on my brother-in-law's window. He rolled it down.
“Catch my husband,” she said, “and tell him he forgot to put the drain plug in our boat. It's filling up with water.”
My brother-in-law nodded as he processed this information. He probably didn't mean to convey to her that he would do what she asked. He was just doing what men do when they are confronted by hysterical women—nod while they search for the quickest way to extricate themselves from the immediate vicinity. The woman went back to watch her boat sink further into the lake along with any hope she might have held for a pleasant afternoon on the water.
Women who are married to callous and ignorant men cannot themselves be prideful. Pride will not suit their circumstances nearly so well as humility. These poor creatures spend a lot of time swallowing their pride and throwing themselves on the mercy of those whom their husbands have wronged. If they do not, nothing much good will ever happen for them. Even if they do, a good outcome is not a forgone conclusion.
My brother-in-law decided, on his way up the hill, that the fellow who's boat was filling up with water had already demonstrated a singular lack of willingness to take suggestions. He had already made my brother-in-law suffer consequences from this lack. My brother-in-law did not see any profit to be had in supposing that the fellow had somehow changed his stripes on the way from the boat ramp to the parking lot. He supposed, rather, that the fellow would still be loathe to take any direction from him, especially as it was likely, my brother-in-law not having changed his stripes either, that any further direction would also be laced with profanity.
By this time the other fellow was walking back down the hill to join his wife at their boat. My brother-in-law, having reasoned all the forgoing out to his satisfaction, passed him by, careful to ignore the scornful gaze the fellow cast his way, and careful as well not to assume any expression that might be construed as gloating. He had to continue this non-gloating demeanor as he walked back down the hill and passed the fellow once more, coming up the hill, this time with a great deal more panic than scorn in his expression.
Eventually the fellow was able to rescue his boat before it went to the bottom, although getting it back onto his trailer and getting it out of the water so that it could drain provided my brother-in-law a lot more entertainment than he had expected when he had hitched the boat up to his SUV earlier that morning. Presumably the fellow and his wife did not enjoy their karma nearly so much.
Proverbs 24:17 says, "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice." Whether you take this as a commandment or merely as sound advice, this may be the hardest proscription in the Bible to follow faithfully. I know I can't do it. I can try to love my enemies, and I pray for them regularly, but if I ever see them come to what I think are their just deserts, I will be hard pressed not to let my heart rejoice.
And when I think of all the misery I've suffered at the hands of the fools I've worked for, the bastards who took my job, and the thieves who've robbed me of the possibility of getting another one anytime soon, I'm equally hard pressed not to pray Psalm 35 that they may become “like chaff before the wind,” or Psalm 58, that my God might “break the teeth in their mouths.” All retribution ought to be biblical in proportion, don't you think?