Parking and the Kindness of Strangers

Model TUnlike Blanche DuBois I do not depend on the kindness of strangers but when it comes to me I feel restored in my spirit. I experienced kindness just the other day when I had the misfortune to scrape the bumper of another car while trying to park near my home. My first hope was that there was no damage thought the grating noise that accompanied my parking attempt made that seem very unlikely. I inspected the damage and then wiped both cars with a cloth, hoping that somehow that would make it go away or would reveal the damage to be too minimal to be noticed.

The damage was slight but it was definitely there and could not be ignored. The right and proper thing to do was to leave a note on the windscreen. I had some resistance to this idea and decided to unpack my shopping first and think about what to do. This resistance stemmed from the fact that I imagined that the other car’s owner would be an angry man so identified with his vehicle that he would take my error of judgement as a personal affront, would want his pound of flesh and more, and whose honour could only be restored by the provision of a new bumper at my expense.

Nevertheless, I decided to do the right thing and leave a note. When I got to the cars, i saw that someone had already done that. I read the note which came from a neighbour, a man I knew only by sight. It said that he had seen it all, seen me wipe the cars thereby concluding that I intended to say nothing and offering himself as a witness. I became quite indignant that he had interpreted my behaviour (which was ambiguous) in the most unfavourable light. Not so!, I added to his note and left my house and phone numbers and drove off on another errand.

On my return both car and note were gone. I half expected to find another note pushed through my letter box but there was nothing. About half an hour later there was a call from the owner of the car, a woman called Ruth. As I began to apologise, she cut me off and told me not to worry about it another minute.

“Really?” I said
“I don’t want you to have a moment’s worry about it. It can happen to anyone. I happened to me. Did you see the other side of my bumper?”
I had. It was also damaged.
“Now the two sides match” she said as though that was the most delightful thing. I did that to someone,” she went on, ‘and she was so kind about it and said it didn’t matter that I thought if it ever happened to me I would pass it on. It’s only a bumper so please don’t worry about it. There are more important things.”

I was very relieved, extremely grateful and deeply touched by the fact that she had phoned me as soon as she could in order to spare me any further anxiety about it. A kind lady with excellent priorities. There far more important things life than bumpers or any of the ‘stuff’ we get so attached to, and a kind act is certainly one of them. I did feel some judgement of my neighbour for interpreting my actions in the worst light. But I see that I am not so different. If I did hesitate to leave a note it was because I had this image of an angry person who would take me for all he could get—a person who didn’t exist. Thinking the worst and expecting the worst of others does not make us better people.

plant in wallKindness is a very underrated quality. Most would agree that kindness is nice but little more than that. It’s easy to overlook that it can also be very powerful. If I pass it on, as Ruth passed it on to me, and someone else does the same , and someone else, and so on, who knows what might happen.

One comment

  1. Love this story! Probably you know the famous Aldous Huxley quote but in case you don’t I looked it up:

    “It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘try to be a little kinder’.”

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