When was the last time you met grace, dear heart?
I met grace in a parking lot a few weeks ago. I’m not one of those holy people who goes around living a good-deed life, tallying up where grace shows up in my goodness. The hard truth is grace, by definition, is unmerited favor. It’s the most generous love we could ever dream of, that we can’t do a thing to earn, but get to receive anyways on the house. Grace is the get-out-of-jail-free card for our soul sickness and self-doubt. This means grace shows up when least deserved and to those least deserving. In this case, grace showed up just when I was realizing what a terrible human I’m capable of being, and she gave me the mercy I most definitely did not deserve.
It was the seven year anniversary of my dad’s death, the red balloon day. We pulled into the parking lot of the party warehouse on that windy spring morning. The family piled out of the car, I opened my passenger door and a gust of wind caught it, ramming it into the car parked next to us. It was a small grey sedan and I had done noticeable and immediate damage. There was a large dent and scrapes of white paint on grey, evidence of my guilt.
I coached myself through options in my head:
- Write a note. Tell them what happened, give your name phone number and mention that you have insurance. Say “I’m sorry. This is my fault. I’m willing to pay whatever is necessary to fix the damage I caused.”
- Screw that! Who do they think you are, Mrs. Moneybags? You know you can’t trust people in this country, they’re always out for more money in the end. You’re self-employed, for crying out loud! Plus, the carseat in the back means they have one kid.. you have three! And look at their car… There are already some dings on the passenger side. So your dent happens to be gigantic and looks terrible, but their car has seen better days. It’s really not your fault that they didn’t keep it in better shape. Plus, it’s the anniversary of your dad’s death! I mean, geez, if anyone deserves a break today, it’s you! Just walk away and hope that the person is alone. If they’re alone, they won’t even look at the passenger side for awhile, and by the time they do you will be long gone.
This is where I wish I could tell you I took option one, that I decided to be the good person we both know I can be. But dammit, I didn’t. I took option two. I walked away from the car and the dent and the voices in my head and walked right into the party warehouse store. I stood there waiting on a woman to inflate the balloons.. red mementos intended to be sent up into the sky to honor a good man, an honest man, a man who lived with love and guts. With every second that passed, every balloon inflated, I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t believe that I was this woman, the woman who hits and runs.
It took long enough waiting on the balloons for me to come to my senses and snap out of it. I made a decision: if the car was still there when I walked out, I’d leave the note. Finally, I gathered my balloons, walked out of the store, spotted the vacant car still in the parking lot next to ours, and we all started walking over to it. At the exact same moment, a woman with a toddler on her hip was walking out of one of the other stores. She was walking in the same direction we were, towards a white van and a silver sedan. She got there first and my heart stopped as she went to her passenger side to put the baby into his carseat. It was her.
She looked tired, like a single mom who hadn’t gotten a real night’s sleep in two years, like life had been wearying and love had let her down. She also looked like someone you wouldn’t want to fuck around with. But I knew the right thing to do and there was no escaping it now, so I took a breath and approached her. “Excuse me, ma’am..I’m so sorry.. and I was going to leave you a note this whole time (BIG FAT LIAR) .. but when we got here, I was getting out of the car and a gust of wind came and.. my car door rammed into your car.. right here.” I pointed out the dent and the paint scars, said how sorry I was. She looked at it with her tired, motherly, up all night caring for her babe eyes, looked at me and said, “Oh, this old car? I mean, look at it… It’s seen better days. (she laughed) Please don’t worry about it, I mean it, really. It’s fine.. don’t worry about it, and you all go a have a good day.” She smiled at me, I thanked her for her kindness, and we left. Deep down, I knew something holy had just happened.
I cringe telling you this story because of what it reveals about me. There’s still a huge part of me that wants you to be impressed with the kind of human I am – the kind who wouldn’t hit and run. Then I realize impressive people are the most at risk for missing grace because they don’t see their need for it. The truth is, we’re all in such need of grace, more than we’d ever muster the courage to ask for and much, much more than we deserve. But I don’t think God holds that against us. I think he laughs, a gentle kind father, and scoops us up in her arms, a tender mother, then walks us into the places where we aren’t good enough but grace is. Then she looks at us with kind, motherly, up all night caring for her babe eyes and says, “Please don’t worry about it.. and you all go have a good day.”