Tuesday, December 13, 2005

our scratched Suburban

In an earlier post I mentioned our scratched Suburban. Actually, it also has two dinged side mirrors; one from a missed baseball catch and one from when I was driving to Aidan's speech therapy and took a turn a bit too fast. That's a different story. But the scratch..... It says "Don't Park on the Sidewalk"; obviously hastily carved with a car key.

My best friend, who was driving the car when it incurred this injunction, lives in a different state, didn't even know it was there until we visited her recently. Her eyes opened with shock when she saw it. She said, "That was from when I was driving it in San Francisco, wasn't it?"

We got the Suburban 7 years ago now, when we knew we were expecting child #6. So it was pretty new when we were in San Francisco because of child #6, Aidan. He was in the hospital. In the ICU. He had survived a terrible case of pneumonia where he went on the oscillating ventilator and was waiting for a liver transplant. He weighed about 5 pounds and had to get up to 10 pounds before he was a viable candidate. He was deep golden yellow and swollen in the belly, frail everywhere else like a child in a famine-struck country. Because of his liver failure he could not process protein so his weight gain was iffy at best. We had been told we should count in minutes and hours, because that was the reality of his situation.

My friend was in SF helping keep us sane; she had travelled from another state. On Sunday, my friend was driving our older kids to meet us (we were with Aidan) and go to Mass near the hospital. There was a political march going on. It was a Gay Pride march. So the hospital parking lot was crammed full and so were all the streets near the hospital. I think you probably can take it from there.

Honestly, I've never known what to think about this whole thing. Whenever someone notices the scratches and raise their eyebrows, I tell the story and they say "Oh!" Once my husband got some car paint from a mail order company but when he spot tested it it was pretty bright compared to the color of our car. It would have illuminated the scratches rather than effaced them. We don't have the cash for the bodywork. If we had the cash, we'd get a dishwasher since our old one's been broken for going on three years.

Sure, a big dusty SUV parked on the sidewalk in SF is just ASKING for trouble. Talk about politically incorrect! To be honest, well yes, I think the scratcher was a jerk, whoever he/she was. Or IT -- maybe it was a Jellicle Cat in one of its worse moments! But that's not the main thing that occurs to me when I notice the scratches which I hardly ever do nowadays unless someone else notices them. What I think of immediately is all the times I've hastily judged a person or a situation, seeing only a piece of the picture.

I read a story once in a parenting book. The author was on a bus with a man who was slumped down ignoring his kids who were raising a ruckus. The author finally got annoyed enough to ask the man to speak to his kids to quiet them down. The man apologized and explained as follows, "My wife just died suddenly. Her funeral was today. I know the kids are a little out of control, but I just can't seem to deal with it or figure out how to calm them down."

Anyway, those scratches on the Suburban express a lot to me. A bunch of different events in the same time period all intersected. I have no idea what was going on in the life of the hostile scratcher, but I do know what was going on in the life of the scratchees. Our events, leading to the parking of an SUV on a city sidewalk, were obviously interpreted as hostility to somebody, to elicit a reaction of hostility. But in fact hostility was almost the last thing going on in our case.

It also reminds me that self-righteousness is often hostile. Our scratcher felt he was "right" and we were wrong. If I felt self-righteous about the scratching -- and admittedly, it's a temptation -- I'd be jumping into a perpetuation of the same cycle.

In another way, it reminds me that our actions ripple outwards in ways we can never really know. So it may be wiser and more charitable to take upon ourselves the burden of that other person's hostility and misplaced sense of justice, rather than somehow perpetuate it by feeling anger back at him or her. I hope this doesn't sound like Elsie Dinsmore or something; it is just that if I acknowledge the injury as somehow shouldering someone else's burden, as Simon of Cyrene involuntarily shouldered the cross, perhaps it's helping the situation more than if I got outraged. Something to ponder, anyway.

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