"Hello, Tori? This is Maureen." The voice is unfamiliar, somewhat tentative; I didn't recognize the phone number. I pause, put a smile in my voice, and respond, "Hello? I'm sorry, who?"
"Maureen. You put a note on my car yesterday."
Oh no. My stomach flips. In the midst of the blizzard clean-up a couple days ago, I backed the minivan into a small car in front of my house. The street was crowded with snow plows and commuters, I was a bit frazzled trying to find a way back into my own driveway, and I just didn't even see this little gray compact. I thought I'd backed into a snow bank! I was only moving about 3 mph, so I know I didn't damage the car, but I left a note because that's what you're supposed to do, right? I had hoped, since I hadn't heard anything in over 24 hours, that I'd never hear from the car owner. Maybe snow melted on the note and smeared the digits. Maybe she swished the wipers before seeing the note and it blew away. Maybe a gull pooped on it.
Yet here she is. A shaky-voiced stranger on the phone, and my first thought is, oh damn, this lady wants money...even though I know I didn't damage that car. Why didn't I just drive away? Because two years ago, when someone sheared the mirror off my car, I was more upset that they didn't take responsibility than I was about shelling out $500 to fix the damage. So I left my number and here she is. I chose kindness, and I need to stand by that now. I take a deep breath to calm the stomach flip.
"Yes, hi, thanks for calling," I acknowledge. "Is everything all right? I didn't see any dents or scratches, and I looked pretty closely." I'm so anxious I can feel my pulse in my throat. Damn, stupid snow! Damn, stupid crowded road! Damn, stupid me for being careless!
"Well, yeah, the car is really dirty," she continues, "so I really can't see anything until I wash it. But I'm sure it's okay." I breathe slowly, keep a smile in my voice, measure my words carefully as I reiterate that I was going really slowly, the car simply slipped on an ice chunk, I didn't see any damage when I checked.
Maureen keeps talking. "Oh, I know. It's a mess. I've been sick, and it was just such as hassle finding a spot in all that snow. Just a mess. I probably parked too close." This is a turn, isn't it? She's not asking for anything, just talking. Yet that small voice in my brain, the one that doesn't expect kindness from strangers, keeps whispering she's going to try to scam you.
She doesn't. Instead, she rambles on for a minute or so about nothing of consequence -- winter weather, trying to kick a chest cold, not really knowing our neighbors, wondering if the flowers she planted in the fall will actually bloom -- and finally she lands here: "I just wanted to thank you for leaving that note with your number. I was just real nice of you, that's all. I appreciate it."
Wait, what? My breath catches. She is just calling to thank me? For leaving a note? After I hit her car? She's thanking me for simply doing the right thing. Wow. Do we really have such low expectations of one another, that we don't think someone else will do the right thing? I guess so, judging by my own reaction to this phone call, my own expectations of this person I've never met. Wow.
What a big deal it is to be kind, to choose to do the right thing. And how scary. I mean, I'm still not entirely sure this woman won't demand cash from me eventually, but I stay on the phone. I ask where she lives (in one of the apartments across the street) and if she might need anything for her cold (she's improving, still not 100%). I could be opening myself to inconvenience and akwardness, but I've realized Maureen is an older woman (she calls me "hon" a couple times) who likely lives alone (she drives a teeny-tiny car!). We're coming to the end of winter (she's likely been cooped up just like I have), and she just wants to make a connection. It's a big deal for her to pick up the phone, too, isn't it?
And just like that, in a three-minute phone call from a stranger, I'm reminded how different the world could be if we each spent a few scary moments each day being intentionally kind to strangers -- choosing to be kind even when it could mean disruption, expense, or time. This is not a new concept...why is it so hard?