On my way home from a visit to the radiology unit of the nearest hospital – where, it turns out, I was a week early but which enabled me to pick up an x-ray of my foot for free – the woman in front of me backed her car into mine. She got out and said I drove my car into hers. We were both stopped at a red light, so the backing and forwarding was done at such slow speed that nary a scratch remained. The point is that we are both equally convinced (of course, I’m right), that the other person was at fault. But the more interesting thing is that because she got out of her car making accusations and calling me, “honey” (which is the equivalent of strangers talking to little kids at top volume as if they are deaf in my book), in a disparaging tone, what could have been an “oh well, but thank goodness” turned into an escalation of note-taking and insurance card handling and calling until what was left was this:
1. Two angry people driving off feeling worse.
2. Her walking off with my note book, handed to her in my own state of agitation, without a backward glance.
I can deal with the feeling worse. In the privacy of home there are many remedies to that – a variety of warm and room-temperature beverages served either in cups or fine glassware, listening to Susan Boyle one more time on YouTube. I’m sure she has a store of rituals all her own for dealing with such days, too. Maybe hers involves cupcakes and flowers.
But walking off with my note book? Why would a middle-aged woman living in one of the most self-consciously forward-thinking, family-friendly communities on the Main Line do such a thing? Because, however she’d like to spin it, it’s called stealing. It got me thinking about kids, parenting, civic-engagement, community-spirit, the things that go toward making a person a human being. As Theodore Roosevelt is supposed to have said, “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.”
I’m worried about the nation, of course. But even more about my community.