Looking in the Rearview Mirror & Finding Mercy

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!

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23 responses to “Looking in the Rearview Mirror & Finding Mercy”

  1. Speaking of whiplash. I know that I am the only one to blame, because there was no one else involved, and in fact there was no cars. I managed to give myself whiplash falling, because I took my glasses off to scape the ice off of them and missed the GIANT patch of ice on the ground. Up in the air, and down on my butt. And now I can say that I have given myself whiplash! Thankfully only 4 people driving by saw.

  2. Two weeks ago my car rear-ended an SUV owned by the nicest (an obviously father of a young driver) man. I was reaching over for my four-year old’s dropped egg McMuffin, I waited until I was stopped, but I thought the car in front of me moved (stupid peripheral vision). No damage to his car and he didn’t even want to exchange names (but I made him in case he got 0.5 mph whip lash in the future). People keep asking me if my hood is up, but hey, it still works and it is a reminder to be humble and thankful.

  3. {{hug}} I’m so sorry that happened – but it happens to the best of us, as my Dad used to say. Hope you are feeling ok – not too sore or anything.

  4. I was also recently very stupid and hit somebody with my car. In my defense, the person was in a black truck in the middle of the night with their lights off. But still, very stupid. I felt/feel very stupid. Glad we could be stupid together!
    and also, Thank goodness you’re all okay 🙂

  5. It appears that about half of all drivers in driving accidents are at fault…. of course you have the no-fault, and various ratios of fault accidents, but I bet it all evens out…. and many are for seriously pointless reasons such as drunk driving and chatting on the phone (and I have a friend who confessed to watching a movie while driving down the coast).

    There have been many times when my nieces have shouted, “Aunt Fern! Look!” and I’ve habitually looked to see what they are excitedly trying to share with me. Each of those times could have been an accident. I’ve asked them at times to talk to each other because I’m trying to focus on traffic. That lasts 2 seconds.

    So when it comes down to it, I will TRY not to look when the kids tell me to. And I’ll even TRY not to look when they scream bloody-murder because one is putting her hands in another one’s space. And each time I fail, I will be glad we are all still alive.

  6. It sounds like no one was injured and for that I am so grateful. I did something really stupid yesterday, but I would rather email it to you. 🙂
    Here’s a big hug to you.

  7. Do you see that your mercy for the driver that hit you is the same mercy shown to you today?

    You say, “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.”

    Where did you learn that this is how people can be expected to behave? It’s not how you behaved and certainly not what you deserved.

    Sure – it’s a stupid mistake, I’ve made it – haven’t we all made them? Perhaps even the women you hit have made that very mistake and were themselves shown mercy – teaching them that it’s the way to be in the world.

    Be gentle with yourself – kids in the back seat are an accident waiting to happen – if not from paying attention to them, then from not paying attention until it’s too late and a shoe goes out the window – oh wait – yeah that was me driving the station wagon in front of you when the shoe hitting your window causing you to slide off the road in the snow.

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