I wanted to be home. It had been a long day at the office and my trip had been delayed by an empty gas tank. I was late, I was hungry and I was in a hurry. I was two turns from home, on the busy street beside the local park that backs to our housing tract, when I saw it coming towards me. Bouncing out between the cars was a bright yellow soccer ball.
My foot instinctively moved to the brake, fearful that the ball would be followed by a child running out from between the cars. My fears quickly passed as a I saw a fence along the curb. The ball was alone on its journey into the street. As I came to where the ball was it took a high bounce that brought it to the exact height of my passenger side mirror. At 30 miles an hour a soccer ball generates significant force. I heard a “pop” as the ball hit the side mirror and then saw the mirror disappear from its plastic casing. I pulled over to survey the damage.
The plastic casing was intact and still attached to the car but the reflective piece was completely gone. There was naked black plastic in the place where reflected objects are "closer than they appear to be". I sighed and walked the 100 yards to retrieve the missing piece, back to where the soccer ball had appeared and the mirror disappeared.
As I walked, thoughts of frustration and anger began to rise, including, “Why was a child kicking the ball toward the street?” “Why wasn’t the coach paying attention?” and “I shouldn’t have to pay for this!”
I found my cracked mirror underneath a truck parked adjacent to the low fence alongside the practice area. I picked it up and turned toward the field and looked for the coach. He was a young man, in his late twenties or early thirties, standing about 30 yards away. He was absorbed in the impossible task of trying to get the attention of fifteen 6 to 7-year-old boys. I held up the mirror and called to him, “Excuse me!”
He immediately looked over. When he saw the mirror in my hands his head dropped and his hand went to his forehead in a gesture of frustration. He walked over to me with an apologetic look on his face. His words matched his expression. “I’m sorry,” he said, “They were supposed to be on water break and he kept kicking the ball. I told him to stop. I will tell him and tell his mom.”
All thoughts of anger and frustration faded as I realized the truth of what had happened. A young coach was doing his best to control a group of energetic little boys. One of them had kicked a ball at a time and in a direction he was not supposed to and a freak accident had occurred. The young coach was now confronted with a middle-aged, shirt and tied man holding a damaged mirror. The coach was fearful of anger and a demand for compensation.
I looked at the coach and the players and realized that the cost of replacing the mirror would likely be a significant burden to them and little burden to me. I could likely rant and rave and claim my right to compensation but what was the point in that? I felt my angry heart soften.
“I can afford to have the mirror fixed,” I said, “but I think he should know what happened so he can learn to be more careful.” The coach called the little boy over. The boy looked fearful as he approached, as if he was expecting to be yelled at and punished. He was clearly relieved when he learned that neither was going to happen. I showed him the mirror, told him I knew it was an accident, but that he needed to be more careful, because it costs money to fix things even when they are accidentally broken. Then I walked away.
As I walked back to my car I realized how much I had changed over the years. Growing up my parents had instilled in me a strong, albeit corrupted sense of “right” and “wrong.” I was taught to assert my rights and get what I deserved. Grace and forgiveness were not Barrett family values. On the rare occasions that forgiveness was given it always came with a price, a debt that would have to be paid or guilt that needed to be felt. There was no such thing as an innocent mistake to my father.
I thought back to the lectures and verbal abuse I had received as a child for innocent mistakes I had made and the associated ever present fear of doing wrong. I remembered times when my father insisted that I confront someone who had wronged me to demand that I get what was coming to me. That was the Barrett way. As i got into my car I took comfort in the realization that it is not the Barrett way any longer.
I drove away with the realization that the coach and the boy had no idea who I was, no way of knowing how to find me in the future, and no way of ever paying me back for the damage that I had been done. I decided that this way, the way of grace, is the best way to respond.
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