By: Matt Gordon
The other day I went to lunch with a friend. It was a long lunch and conversation topics included: hockey, management, work fulfillment, faith and the church, mental health, parenting, abolishment of slavery, and more. Theologians, judges, and philosophers were all quoted. Together, we solved it all. Then we paid and left.
I approached my vehicle, which had a large, long scratch on the side and a dislodged rear fender. My car had been hit. No amount of philosophizing could repair what had been damaged. I stared at the mess like perhaps I could Jedi things back to better. I could not. So I took the dangling pieces, threw them in the back of the vehicle, and prepared to drive home.
Once in the car, I noticed two notes tucked inside the windshield wiper. One was from someone who saw my car get hit. This person left me the license plate number, offered pictures she took of the incident, and gave me her name and cell phone number. The second note—I assume left after some contemplation or from seeing the first note being placed, perhaps—was from the person who had hit my vehicle. Paraphrased it read:
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to. I was driving my grandma’s truck. You can reach out to me or to her at the following numbers ______________”
I don’t know if I have that exactly right, but I am certain of the one line, “I didn’t mean to.” It made me chuckle a little and I pretended it said the opposite. “I’m so sorry. I did this on purpose. You had it coming.”
I drove home to some chaos. We have some health stuff impacting our household that is a bit delicate and can be pretty serious. It was both that day. My car was busted and the weekend was headed the same way.
Then, a few days later, to add to the trials, my son threw up at preschool. Ironically—or not?—it was “Messy Day” at school. I just took this as my son being an overachiever. I’ll see your theme, and I’ll raise you, I picture him saying. If they gave a valedictorian award for Messy Day alone, he would undoubtedly be the vomit-covered frontrunner.
He had overachieved in temperature too, running just under 105 degrees.
I was already home from work helping to clean up one mess, and now this new one entered the picture. I had canceled things and let people down; we were scuffling along, trying to just make it through the week. I had tried to reattach my dislodged fender, and, like it, we were just barely hanging on.
That old familiar feeling returns. The one in which I am a child on a bicycle going down our steep gravel lane. Just cruising along. And then the realization hits—I am going too fast!
Life brings these moments. More frequently as we age, I think. We feel immortal, in control, ebullient in our lack of awareness. And then we look down to see the delicacy of the front wheel, picking up on just the hint of a wobble. We see upcoming potholes on each side of the road, an easy place to overcompensate or bottom-out or careen out of control. We fear touching the brakes almost as much as we fear not touching the brakes. It seems inevitable that we will fall. The only question—how bad will the damage be?
Today has me thinking, though, not about the damage. Not even about the trials. Not about philosophizing my way out of this present affliction. No, it has me thinking about the notes.
On my windshield that day, when my car was accidentally accosted (allegedly!), I had two notes. One from a witness who wanted to stand with me if needed, and one from the person who had allowed this meager trial into my life.
Both notes brought perspective. They reminded that I wasn’t alone. They reminded that there are always stories beyond the story we can see. More moving parts, more emotions, more possibilities, more outcomes.
In the present circumstance—when trials come—do I check for notes? Notes of camaraderie and support. Notes of explanation. Notes of perspective. The notes don’t fix the fenders. But they can fix our eyes.
When I think about the last seven days—messy days, I’ll admit—I consider not “why” things like this happen. Even if I knew, would it really do much good? Rather, I get to measure out “who” I get to be when life squeezes, when it wobbles down the lane. I get to see who I am and who I am not. Mostly, I get to see who I follow, who has made and is making me, and what I believe about this world.
I haphazardly fixed my fender. I buffed out most of the scratches. And then I got to send a text to the young woman who hit my car. I got to put grace and forgiveness into that text, because grace and forgiveness is what I’ve been so deeply given in life. I got to share the burden of trial with her because my burden, in both life and death, has been taken for me. I got to love because I have been loved.
And now, as my son’s temperature drops and I find myself back to work this morning, with some trials still lingering and others subsiding or lying in wait, I breathe and know: my life is not my own and I can’t hold it all together. Both are welcome realities that allow for joy amid trials, hope for even the messy days, and peace that is beyond understanding.
Together, we ride along.