A Car Bump and Compassion
Last Thursday I learned a lesson about compassion and anger. Two very different emotions. Two powerful emotions. The morning started off like a typical morning of getting my oldest kiddo out the door for school. Still wearing pajamas, the rest of us climbed in to the car to drop Simon off in the elementary school car line. As we creept closer to the drop-off point, I turned around to talk to Simon. I smoothed his hair and told him to have an exciting day . . . when . . . bump! Unfortunately, my foot was on the brake, but not completely on the brake because I bumped the car in front of me. Ever soooo slightly. Barely. I mean, I was on a flat parking lot rolling as fast as a kid would crawl. Not even 1 mile an hour.
When the lady in front of me requested that I meet her, I was surprised. “Surely there’s no damage,” I thought to myself. After dropping off Simon, I followed the car in front of me to the parking lot, where this rather perturbed lady jumped out of her car to point out the damage to me. I couldn’t see anything. Upon very close viewing I saw a scratch. Maybe the size of a quarter. Yet, I still couldn’t believe that my incredibly slow crawl could have actually caused damage to her car. We both parked, we waited for the police to come, and still I was in disbelief. I wanted a measuring tape to measure the height of our bumpers. I wanted proof that this rude lady before wasn’t trying to get something for nothing. Regardless, the police said they weren’t assigning fault and made us exchange insurance information. In tears, and feeling falsely vilified, I drove home.
I called and cried to my mom. I searched the web for information about the bumper to her car. I learned that bumpers are typically made of plastic nowadays, so they do scratch easily. “That’s stupid,” I thought to myself, “What’s the purpose of a bumper that doesn’t repel a bump?” I researched her claims that it would cost $2,000 to fix the scratch. “Not true!” I reassured myself, in more thoughts to smear her character. I tried to everything I could to ease my mind, even thought I knew I was the car the did the bumping.
Finally, I called my insurance company to let them know that a claim was probably coming. The lady on the phone tried to reassure me that sometimes with small incidents, people “cool off” and never bother filing with insurance. She asked if I had pictures of the other lady’s car, which I did not. (Of course that was the morning I chose to leave my cell phone at home.) After feeling comforted by my insurance company, I began to feel afraid again. Did my lack of picture proof mean that the other lady would alter the damage and make it worse? Would the police photos actually make it to my insurance company, or would they be lost? Afraid and proof-less, I decided to drive over to her house, take pictures for myself, and upload them to my insurance company. After all, I had her address on the police report. Tiny scratch or not, I wanted proof of my innocence or guilt. And I needed pictures to do so.
I loaded my little ones into the car and drove to find her house. My emotions were raw, angry, and fearful. This lady was accusatory, unforgiving, threatening, and obviously not kind. So I thought.
I found her home and pulled around the back to take my photos. Less than a minute later, she came into her driveway to confront me. Accusations of trespassing were thrown, heated responses were replied. Voices were raised, and frustration was evident. Then, out of the blue, we stopped. Her voice calmed, and she said she just hadn’t expected her morning to go that way. When she calmed, I calmed. I agreed with her.
She apologized for making my kids wait in the school parking lot – she heard the baby crying while we waited for the police. I reassured her that my girls were simply bored in the car. They had been fine. She told me that she just purchased this car a month ago, and she had been trying soo hard to keep it pristine. Even though it wasn’t a brand-new car, it had been “new” to her. I told her I understood why it hurt to be bumped. She then walked me around to the front of her car, where I saw the front headlight and fender were smashed. She sadly explained that someone had hit her in a parking lot, just last week, and left without a note. The estimate to fix the damage was greater than she could pay, and it would take months of savings before she could repair the headlight and fender. I hugged her and offered condolences.
Seeing her despair at the fender damage, I understood why the tiny scratch on her bumper had been so infuriating that morning. The other damage had been anonymous, so I simply was the one she channeled all that anger towards. I was the face to her despair. She apologized to me, and I apologized to her. She talked about being a single mom. She told me about her job at the hospital. I felt a sense of bonding come between us as we talked in her driveway. This was not a rude, insensitive, vindictive woman. She was a hard-working, empathetic nurse who was determined to provide for her family.
I suddenly had an idea – one that surprised me yet seemed totally natural at the same time. I went to my car and pulled out my checkbook. I wrote her a check for half the amount of repairing the fender and headlight. She refused to accept the check, but I persisted. I told her that I had been praying for a way to help someone locally. My husband had received a bonus check at work, and I wanted to share our blessings with someone else in need. I offered her the check again. She reluctantly accepted the check, but repeated that she would not keep the money. Despite her loss at the moment, she also considered herself blessed. We chatted some more, we swapped phone numbers, and I offered to help her find a repair man in a few months when she had the savings to fix her fender and headlight. (My father-in-law is a mechanic.) I also offered my husband’s help to putty and smooth the scratch I probably caused. Then, she met my girls, and we parted on very friendly terms. I have been tempted to invite her family over for dinner this week and to just stay on touch with her. She feels like a friend now, in a weird-we met over a car accident-kind of way.
Never in a million years would I have suspected, while angrily driving over to her home, that I could feel a compassionate kinship towards her. I never thought, in my quest to prove my innocence, that I would be handing over a check for damage that I did not do!
That’s the power of compassion.
“Isn’t it amazing,” I told her as we stood in her driveway, “that when the anger goes away, people just are people?”
I had misjudged her. I pegged her all wrong. And I am sooo grateful that God calmed us both down enough to realize that we were both just people, trying to be good parents and get our kids to school on time. Just two moms trying to raise our kids and enjoy life.
My rough morning turned into a fantastic day, and I could hardly wait to again call my mom and share the good news with her. I told my friends that visited before lunch. I shared my excitement with my husband afterwards. The lesson I learned about compassion has become a precious moment in my life.
Anger seems to beget more anger, mistrust, judgement, and vilification of whoever you’re angry at – it’s a cycle of negative thought and draining emotion! On the other hand, compassion lifts the load of care off your shoulders, inspires the giving of service and love to others, and offers hope. Compassion is powerful enough to defeat anger, if given the chance to develop.
I hope I can continue to see others through the lens of compassion. May this story inspire your heart to do the same.