Last Sunday, I was faced with a moral dilemma. It’s interesting, in life, when you have something thrown at you that you don’t know how to deal with. I’m not very old, but after 28 years, I pretty much know how I’ll react to life’s pressing issues. Not so, last Sunday.
It was a miserably windy day, but I was on a mission to accomplish a series of errands, and the last one on my list was the grocery store. I pulled into the parking lot and, hot damn, drove straight into a really great spot. (I’m not lazy. It was cold and windy. Give me a break.) I grabbed my purse and had one foot on the pavement when my door was ripped from my hand by a gust of wind, sending it smashing into the huge black truck parked next to me, leaving a fairly large dent right in the middle of the bed. My first reaction was to assess the damage, followed quickly by the instinct to hide in shame. I got back into my car, shut the door, and let my mind race.
This wouldn’t have been much of an issue had I not just been in a self-inflicted accident (that wall came out of NOWHERE, I swear) the previous month. Worries about insurance, more deductibles, and time-eating hassle took over. In the, perhaps, 3 minutes that passed, no one came back to the truck. I started examining it. “You know, if you scraped the white paint off, I bet that’s hardly a dent at all.” “He already has rust stains on the side of his truck—and look at the scratches back there. He probably wouldn’t notice or even care!” “People do stuff like this all the time. People do way worse stuff all the time." Convinced, I started my car and pulled away. I decided to flee the scene.
But then I couldn’t. I wasn’t sure enough. So I pulled into a spot on the other side of the lot and went through the weighing of options again. As I sat there, I watched as, not one, but two different white cars pulled into the spot next to the truck. What if the driver saw those cars and thought it was them? What if there was a fight? What if someone else had to take my blame?
Then I thought about what other people would do in my position. I could think of friends who would, without hesitation, find the driver and admit their fault. I have other friends who I know would leave and never think of it again. But it really didn’t matter what they’d all do, in the end. This was my predicament, shaped by factors like a streak of bad luck (an unexpected medical bill, a car accident, my dog ripping up the floor in my apartment, a hole in my favorite shirt…), my lack of a belief in moral forces (religion, karma, etc.), and the fact that it felt so unfair. “It’s Mother Nature who should pay for this one!”
A solid ten minutes passed, and I had a full-on stress headache, by the time the driver finally emerged from the grocery store. It was a young guy with dark hair. He looked tough, maybe mean. Watching him pull out his keys, I still didn’t know what I should do. “He’s already on the driver side. He didn’t even notice.” The moment of truth stretched on.
But then something forced my reluctant hand to open the door, forced me to run at this poor man and assault him with awkward apologies. “Oh!” he said, “That’s really sweet of you. Most people would just drive away.” And I’m thinking, “God, this guy is so nice. I hope he doesn’t wonder why my car isn’t next to his anymore. I hope he doesn’t realize I almost left.” I gave him my information, along with many more apologies, and let him get on his way with his pile of groceries. I never made it to the store. Instead, I cried in my car, overcome by the sheer stress and shame of it, and called my Dad. And then went to buy Advil and coconut water.
Once I calmed down and managed my headache, I felt relief. Although I’d never believe in something like karma or a punishment in afterlife, if I’d left, I’d have been haunted by that truck forever. Or at least for, like, a solid month. Even if it does end up doubling my insurance payments, I’m glad it happened because I learned more about myself: that it feels pretty good to treat another how I’d like to be treated, that letting my emotions get out of hand is completely pointless, that I should hang on to my damn door more tightly. Most importantly, I learned that I can still really surprise myself.
Did I learn that I should always do the “right thing”? Nah. Sometimes, I'm sure I'll take my chances. After all, you can never tell which way the wind will blow.