Looking in the Rearview Mirror & Finding Mercy

Dec 13 2011

My kids got to meet paramedics and police officers today. I’m sure there are events more humiliating and humbling than a car accident that’s my fault, but right at the moment, I’m hard-pressed to think of one.

Well, maybe the time I was the trained facilitator leading a trust-fall activity when I let the person falling toward me plummet to the earth and land on her hiney. That was pretty embarrassing.

Or maybe the time I was in the third grade and I wore a dress sans panties on Flip-up Friday. (Third grade boys. Sheesh.) It’s 30 years later, and I’m still reliving that one, so it had to be a good one.

Or maybe the time I was at that stop-light, and the lady next to me thought I was picking my nose and I so totally wasn’t but I’ll never be able to find her to tell her so. I knew I should’ve followed her car. (Kidding.) (Mostly.)

OK. So I can think of lots of humiliating things. But the absolute worst one that happened today is the car accident.

Once upon a time, several Christmases ago, I was at a complete stop at a stoplight when a girl rear-ended me. It sucked, but it sucked way more for her than it did for me. She felt terrible, and she apologized at least 13 times. When we looked at our cars, I could see no damage. At all. None. And it was Christmas time. And filing accident reports and insurance claims are a pain in the butt. So I said, “You know what? Let’s do nothing. You’re OK. I’m OK. Merry Christmas.” And then she cried, which I thought was a little bit dramatic, but to each her own.

Once upon a much more recent time, maybe earlier this very day, I was chattin’ it up with a couple of preschoolers in my rearview mirror, and I didn’t see the car in front of me stop. I feel stupid typing this. I want to crawl into a hole and pull the dirt around my head and hide for a few days or three years, whichever comes last. It was a chump driving move. It was dangerous. I know better. I am better. And not one car – but two – paid the price. Yep. I hit the car in front of me which hit the car in front of it.

It wasn’t a bad accident, and everyone is fine, but I apologized at least 13 times to the two nicest women who ever drove their cars through our small town.

Honest to God, I don’t know what’s wrong with them, but they didn’t get the memo that people who are the victims of stupid drivers are supposed to be defensive and angry, mean and distrustful. Instead, they were gracious and lovely. Unkind words never escaped their mouths. They were unfailingly polite.

Then the police officer showed up. And he didn’t cite me, even though we all agreed that the fault was mine.

You guys, there’s nothing quite like that vulnerable feeling of being small and unworthy of compassion. Of feeling dark and ashamed. Of standing in front of people I’ve wronged with no excuse and only an apology to offer. Of exposing my soul to strangers who have no reason to love me or to handle my heart with care. Of handing them the tools of justice, knowing I’m about to get what I deserve, and then watching them, one by one, reject what’s fair and just in favor of repaying a wrong with gentleness and mercy.

And then I cried.

I’m grateful today for the irrational and unfair kindness of strangers. And you better believe I’ll be on the lookout for ways I can pay that forward. My newest Mama Super Power? Recognizing a Christmas miracle when it bites me on the butt.

Learning to spend less time looking in the rearview mirror and more time at what’s in front of me,

P.S. Merry Christmas!


UPDATE 12/14:

Following the accident, I posted this on the Five Kids Facebook page: “If anyone feels strangely compelled to share something incredibly dumb that you did today – or, oh, say, in your lifetime – I wouldn’t be opposed to a little “colossal stupidity” company.”

Boy, howdy! If you need a pick-me-up today, or just a good, gut-busting laugh, you need to check out the comments section over there. They were priceless. And precious. And deliciously horrific. And awesome.

I love you forever and for always. You sure know how to be there for a girl in crisis. BLESS YOU!