Be the Decency You Want to See in the World

On a random Tuesday not long ago, I took my daughter to the clinic for her one-year checkup. Save the lingering anxiety I bear from keeping her alive, I had nothing unusual to note as we finished up

Upon returning to the parking lot, I noticed a truck had made itself quite cozy next to us. When I say a truck, I mean one of those giant Ford-olet F35,000 models I would need a ladder to saddle up into. And when I say cozy, I mean I was going to have a hard time getting the doors open, let alone buckling my child into her car seat. Annoyed, I evaluated this crap park job, all the while never noticing the man still sitting in the driver’s seat. The truck was parked at a diagonal, touching the lines on both sides.

Ugh.

“How am I supposed to get in my car,” I mumbled. Inside my head, I hadn’t yet left the doctor’s office. My mind was still swirling with thoughts about the future…

My little baby. She’s one now – how did that happen? The doc peppered us with questions. Does she eat solids? How much? Does she walk? Crawl? Sign her name in cursive? Speak fluent Armenian? I reeled. For the most part, I find this parenting thing fun. I love watching her curious exploration, her smiles and laughs, and her funny faces. Everything else is just mildly terrifying. It’s just so unknown – you know? Each day I work to quash the fear of what could happen. I glance at the woman walking by, holding up a differently abled young woman and a cartoon backpack. Is she her mother? Is she scared? Overwhelmed? Prepared for whatever life throws at her? I thought about the obstacles we confront as parents – both the ones that feel big and the ones that really are big.

But it’s cold and I have a baby so I forge onward. Opening my car door, I had little space to maneuver let alone think about my next move.

The door clinked on the truck.

I began to unbuckle my gal from the carrier when the tall, livid driver came hurtling at us.

“What the EXPLETIVE do you think you’re EXPLETIVE doing?!” he screamed.

Instinctively, I snapped my hands over the baby’s ears. Shocked and a somewhat alarmed, I stammered the question I asked myself just moments ago.

“Well you don’t just EXPLETIVE slam your EXPLETIVE door of the car next to you! Have some decency!” he yelled.

Rattled, I said nothing. Instead, I ignored him and slipped into my car through the rear passenger side door. As it turned out, I could enter from there.

By now, an older, concerned citizen was approaching the scene. He and the driver inspected the truck with the precision usually reserved for cellular genomics. I cowered in the backseat, wondering how this was going to play out. Generally speaking, I’m not a timid woman. But it’s not everyday that a large man curses at me in a parking lot.

Did I damage the car? I mentally rewound – I didn’t recall anything significant. There wasn’t really enough room to open the door with any kind of velocity, let alone heft. And in the three seconds that I cared to actually examine the truck, I was looking for a wormhole and not a dent. 

In the backseat, my daughter was unfazed. She babbled merrily as I began to buckle her in. I babbled back and forced a smile. I choked back a tear. Why didn’t I just get into the car this way to begin with? It wasn’t hard. I’ve done it before. Instead, I saw a frustrating scene, acted annoyed and impulsively, and now here we are.

I finished buckling, got out, and took a deep breath.

Walking over to the man’s driver side door I noticed I was starting to shake. He was looking down at his cell phone, probably calling his insurance company or the local paper. I gave a little wave that said, HiPleaseOpenYourWindowDontHurtMeThanks?

“Hi. Hello there. You know what? I am sorry. I bumped your car and it was wrong. And also? You should know that it’s very hard to feel apologetic when someone’s screaming the f-word in your face,” I burbled, tears beginning to fall.

He stared at me for a moment, looking confused. He seemed to soften a bit. Said thanks. I think he apologized too. But it was a little bit too late. I was hardly listening and I just wanted to get the EXPLETIVE out of there.

I got back in the car and began to cry. I then proceeded to cry for nearly 40 minutes. I Just. Couldn’t. Stop. Maybe the incident caught me on a particularly emotional day, but I’m not so sure my reaction would have been any different on a random Thursday. I cried because I felt humiliated. Overwhelmed. Embarrassed. Vulnerable… I cried because some day, someone is going to speak to my baby girl like that. And there’s not a thing I can do to stop it.

But that doesn’t mean I’m powerless.

In fact, I have a lot of power. As her parent, I am uniquely positioned to teach her how to make good choices. To do the right thing. I can influence her both explicitly in what I say, and implicitly in what I do, the latter of which is infinitely important. I can use my power for good and not evil and then I can go home and scream expletives into a pillow like a normal person.

Together with our family, and our tribe, we can teach her to be the decency we want to see in the world. That true kindness and acceptance comes from within. That you can’t be responsible for the actions of others, only yourself. So be kind, try your best, and if that doesn’t work, breathe.

This too shall pass.

I’ve since had a few weeks to reflect on that day in the parking lot. I don’t know why I didn’t lash back at that man. Certainly no one would have been surprised if I had, least of all me. But somehow I was able to reach deep down inside and channel something good. I was able to not just treat this man kindly, but regard him that way as well. Because I have no idea what his story is. Maybe he was waiting to pick up his aging mother after another eye appointment because she lost her glasses AGAIN. Maybe he got yelled at right before he saw me. Or maybe he’s just your run-of-the-mill, cranky jerk. Truth is, we simply don’t know how big the load our fellow humans are hauling around, day after day. All we can do is try to give people the benefit of the doubt and a hearty helping of kindness because someday, the person we help might be a part of ourselves.

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