Yesterday I was rear-ended. I was on my way from taking Max to hockey camp, on my way into work. A little bit ahead of schedule but still later than I liked. I drove the route that I thought would involve the least amount of traffic, the one that would be me there the quickest. I was ready to turn onto the road that would carry me in the direction of work. I was stopped, waiting for the cars to pass me when it happened.
I was jolted, a bit addled, not entirely sure what had happened, momentarily confused. I sat for a moment that felt like a lifetime before getting out of my car. I checked my bumper I wandered back to my car. I sat down. Still in a fog, not entirely sure what to do.
The stranger who hit me got out of her car and came running. “I am so sorry” she said. “Are you OK?” I swallowed my initial instinct to wave her off with assurances that I was fine. I wasn’t entirely. “I am a bit wigged out” I admitted. She was near tears. And pregnant. “Me too” she said and I noticed how frail she looked, how shocked and sad . We moved our cars out of the intersection and into a church parking lot.
When I stepped out of my car, that second time, as my head and heart cleared I knew the only response to this situation was gentle kindness. She was OK. I was OK. We were both scared, both shaken. We both needed nothing but understanding. The only response was to wrap my arms around this stranger, hug her hard and tell her it was all OK, that all would be well. To soothe and be soothed.
We fumbled for our information, talked about her baby to be born, begged each other to go to a doctor. We hugged some more and talked about how pregnancy will make you cry. We consoled one another and spoke our gratitude for being OK. There was no accusations about sudden stops or not paying attention. There was no defensiveness. We both instinctively knew that it would help neither of us to rehash what had happened with a goal of assigning blame. The accident was over. Now there were just two people in a messy moment, with each other on the side of the road, in a moment of confusion and fear, in full realization that kindness is the only thing that would fix the situation.
Later in the day we called each other’s cell phones. “What did the doctor say?” we asked. “How are you feeling?” We were happy to learn that all was well, continued to speak words of kindness and empathy. I hung up feeling warmed and cared for and not at all hit.
How often do we bump into people, only to inflate like puffer fish, spiky and defensive, fearfully protecting ourselves from the wrath that might come in response to our mistake? How often are we bumped into and lash out–out of fear, out of hurt? How is violence simply an outgrowth of that–our hurt, our fear, our need to protect ourselves, spiraling out of control?
What would happen if we instead shifted out of defensiveness and into kindness, even when we are slammed from behind unexpectedly. Even when we make a mistake that could cost us? What if we forgot all our fears at the moment and just breathed out kindness. What miracles could occur? I can’t stop thinking about how our world might be different.
As I stood on the side of the road with my arms around a stranger I thought how lucky I was to be given the gift of connection that day. Here was a beautiful human being, vulnerable and rushed and a mama just like me. We might never have met, might never have realized that the person driving behind me on that busy road was so kind. I might never have been tapped on the shoulder to be reminded how kindness changes everything.
Every connection starts with a bump, some harder than others. Human connection starts with a touch–how we chose to react will determine whether we destroy or care for one another, will determine the fate of our tribe.
Its an important lesson to learn.