A few years ago I was involved in a car accident. For a moment in time I stared death in the face – a brief moment appearing as long as eternity, and during which the only available option was surrendering to what was to be, whatever the outcome. Dead or alive.
I survived, although at great cost. My body came out of the incident battered, bruised and broken in multiple places and from top down. Only surgical steel and bolts, the skills of surgeons, the nurturing support and tireless care of nurses, and the competent guidance of physiotherapists, escorted me back into life, bit by bit restoring me into a renewed and working order. My gratitude to these people is as deep as can be and forever.
Yesterday I went to hospital for a check-up and to have my marred knee and leg x-rayed. On my way home I popped into the supermarket. As I walked through the sliding doors at the main entrance, a young boy – five, or perhaps six years of age – made a 180 degrees turn, ramming the shopping trolly he was playing with right into my bad knee. The pain was excruciating. Having left the hospital less than ten minutes earlier and already feeling wide open and vulnerable, I heard myself swear. “Use your eyes, boy – you’re not alone in this world!” I exclaimed, looking sternly into the stunned, unhappy face of the wee boy as I limped into the shop.
The acute pain soon ceased, and as I went about my errands, I couldn’t get the boy’s unhappy face out my head. Worse, my harsh words kept ringing in my ears; riddling me with concern and guilty conscience. A silent prayer he would still be there when I left took on a life of its own in my heart; I felt a strong urge to apologise to him.
He was there. Thankfully. He looked a little apprehensive as I appraoched him. “I’m so sorry!” I said. “I really apologise for swearing. I shouldn’t have done that.” I could see how my words allowed him to let go, to soften a little – it was obvious those were not the words he had been expecting to hear. “It’s okay,” he replied in a surprisingly steady voice, baffling me with how adult he appeared. “You see, it just hurt so badly,” I continued, “and that knee you happened to hit was painful already and troubling me terribly. But I shouldn’t have spoken to you so sharply, that was wrong. I’m really sorry I did – I know you didn’t intend to bump into me. Okay?” “Yes, it’s okay,” the boy replied reassuringly. “It’s all good.” His maturity and the wisdom in the young boy’s face amazed me. It’s all good, this young boy said! He shut me up. Over and done with. He was the superior one in this scenario, not me. What a realization, what a humbling experience it was.
When overtaken by fears and perceived vulnerabilities our darker side, our shadow, is all too easily evoked. I had stumbled headlong into the trap, as I have done many a time when gripped by anxiety or fear, sometimes from sheer exasperation even.
In the car home I kept thinking about the boy; no way could I get that fair face and clear blue eyes of his, looking straight into mine, off my mind. After a while I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer, tears silently rolling down my face at seeing my unhappy shortcomings – all the fear in me from feeling vulnerable at the possibility of being broken further. “What a pity!” I kept thinking, my thoughts going to the boy, “that all I was capable of filling your empty trolly of joyous play with, was a bundle of harsh words.”
The remainder of the journey home my fantasies were difficult to curb. All the ‘what ifs.’ Some of these were suprisingly grandiose, exaggerating my potential power to impact and influence another’s life, a complete stranger at that, but all born out of my intense wish for not causing needless hurt, or harm even. – What if my sharp words would etch themselves into his psyche? I asked myself. What if he didn’t really get how sincere my unhappiness at what I’d done and subsequent apology was? What if I had wounded his young dignity, his trust and immediacy, his enjoyment of life? Had I put an invisible break on the healthy unfolding of a spontaneous child?
Eventually I returned to reality, regaining my composure. With it came a rekindled trust in a child’s resilience, reassuring me this young boy’s encounter with a whacky stranger in a supermarket, albeit unpleasant, was just an episode, a short and insignificant chapter in a life.
It was not insignificant for me, however. Yesterday my master teacher was a six year old lad. This boy held up a mirror so well polished it revealed a perfect reflection of my imperfect self. For that I thank him. I also pray that my apology did reach him – reached his innermost being. My apology was an expression of acknowledgement, respect and gratitude. The wee lad deserves all that.