Amsterdam, Schiphol Airport, flight lounge 52. I have 90 minutes of work to do in the business lounge.
A few desks away from me sat a very large man, gobbling snacks, sweating—and wheezing, very loudly, with every breath. The more he went to get food, the louder he wheezed on return.
He annoyed the hell out of me.
My head phones couldn’t compete, my iPod was unavailable. All seats were taken, and I had to work. The minutes droned on, his snargling wheezing got worse; I got angrier.
I hurried, mentally rehearsing snide remarks. I finally left early, thinking of noise pollution, gluttony, and the selfishness of other people. He’d put me in a bad mood.
Then I read the NYTimes story, “A 12th Dallas Convict is Exonerated by DNA.”
HOUSTON, Jan. 17 — A 50-year-old Dallas man whose conviction of raping a boy in 1982 cost him nearly half his life in prison and on parole won a court ruling declaring him innocent. He said he was not angry, “because the Lord has given me so much.”
The parolee, James Waller, was exonerated by DNA testing, the 12th person since 2001 whose conviction in Dallas County has been overturned long after the fact as a result of genetic evidence….
Prosecutors had joined defense lawyers in calling for the clearing of Mr. Waller, who spent more than 10 years behind bars before he was paroled in 1993…
Mr. Waller broke down once at the hearing, describing how his car crashed on the way to a court proceeding in 2001, an accident that killed his pregnant wife, Doris, and the unborn daughter they had wanted to call Grace. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t want to live no more,’ ” he recalled, mopping his face with a tissue…
By the [12-year old victim’s] account, he [had] heard the voice of his [medium-height, medium-weight] attacker that night at a 7-Eleven near his home, and turned to see Mr. Waller, who was then 25 and lived with his family in the same apartment complex as the victim, the only black family there. Although there were discrepancies in the boy’s account — Mr. Waller is almost 6-foot-4 and was heavy — and although Mr. Waller presented witnesses saying he was home at the time, he was convicted in 46 minutes and sentenced to 30 years. He won parole in 1993 but had to register as a sex offender….
Mr. Waller has started a lawn care business, but remains on parole pending the formal action of the appeals court and must shy from all contact with children. “It has been a long struggle for me,” he said. “They look at you like you’re an animal.”
Mr. Waller—incarcerated, libeled, despised—is free of anger.
I—flying business class internationally—was imprisoned by it. I couldn’t even own my anger, I had to blame someone else—a poor man who had the nerve, the temerity, to continue breathing after I had entered his room.
I am struck—and shamed—by the enormous gap between Mr. Waller’s way of dealing with reality, and my own.
Trust requires the ability to get outside oneself. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. The optional part is vastly greater—if we only choose it.
Why do I find that so hard to do?