Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Manic Act of Kindness

I had just dropped the kids off in front of the school one day last week, when I noticed something amiss with the car in front of me. As I rounded the brick-paved driveway, I noticed a lunchbox perched in the back window.

I have been the victim of a forgotten lunchbox a time or two myself, so I felt compelled to somehow let this other mom know. If I could just save one mom from having to drive all the way back to the school, or from the tremendous guilt of her child having to eat a dreaded "emergency lunch" (if she never even realized the lunchbox was forgotten), then it would be worth it. (Note: While I, personally, am very grateful the "emergency lunch" system exists so that my children do not starve, they are not as appreciative because they are not fans of the type of food that is offered).

As I followed this unsuspecting fellow mom out of the school, my heart was racing and my stomach was churning as I desperately tried to hatch a plan. Naturally my first plan was to do nothing. Because I had a pretty good hunch I would just be making a fool out of myself, anyway. Ah, but then enter the guilt trip, stage left. Wouldn't I appreciate it immensely if someone would stick their neck out for me in this manner? Wouldn't I be grateful for time and gas money and hassle and frustration SAVED? Yes, I would.

But there was really nothing I could think of to do, unless . . . unless the stoplight at the end of the road was red. Then I could put my good deed into motion, dash out of my driver's seat and with wicked speed, knock on this ill-fated mom's window (not too loudly, so as not to ruin her day in other ways). I could reveal to her the location of her child's lunchbox and save the day! Oh, my heart was pounding wildly now.

As we turned the corner on the road, I saw that the light was indeed red! But as we pulled up to stop, it tauntingly turned an annoying shade of green; the kind you only see when you want the light to be red so you reach something on the floor of the car or floss your teeth. Foiled!

Okay, now I really just needed to give up. I mean, how far am I expected to go when paying it forward or performing a random act of kindness? This was getting way too difficult. But some Jiminy-Cricket-like presence was on my shoulder, nagging me to go in hot pursuit of this vehicle.

So I got in the other lane and positioned myself next to her. I looked over. She looked like her day was not off to a good start already. Elbow up on the top of the door, head leaning on hand, mind most likely a million miles away. Boy, was I doing her a favor. I was going to change her life. So I honked the horn. She didn't look. I honked again. Nothing. One more time, more persistently. She finally looked, startled and giving that confused smile and wave you give when you think someone you know is trying to say hello, rather than a stranger is trying to save your life.

I had my window rolled down, and tried to holler over the noise. But I also pointed to the back of her car for a visual aid. "There's a lunchbox back there!" I yelled triumphantly. This was it. I was going to see a relieved look of gratitude on her face and with one glance, she was going to communicate to me that I had changed the course of her life that day and my reward would be in heaven. Only I didn't get the look. She said, "Oh!" She was smiling when she said it, but it was just, "Oh!" I smiled obligingly, and rolled my window back up. And went on my merry way. Without my good feeling.

I passed her and continued to watch her in my rear view mirror. It didn't appear that she had any intentions of making a u-turn. Nope. Just driving straight ahead on the same path. Not going back. Didn't seem bothered by the lunchbox at all. Well. And I had done everything but run her off the road and make a citizen's arrest.

It took me a good few minutes to be able to say this, but I don't have any regrets, and if I had it to do all over again, I'd do the exact same thing. Because if I had not done it, I would be feeling like I had let humanity down, and not cared, and not tried to help. I have no idea who she is. I pray she doesn't know who I am, either. But how was I to know the lunchbox was not needed? Maybe her child was having lunch at school that day. But it seemed logical to me that the lunchbox was just forgotten. And maybe it was, but she has a different way of thinking than me. Maybe her child LIKES "emergency lunches" . . . Or here's a thought: maybe she didn't even understand what I was trying to tell her.

But it is worth it to go out of your way. I don't feel satisfied that I helped her out in any way, but I wouldn't want to have gone on wondering if I could have helped, but didn't. From now on, I plan to avert my eyes from other vehicle's back windows when leaving the school. On the other hand, maybe I just need to be more prepared. I could make a sign that says, "Does your child need that lunchbox today?" and just hold it up as I drive by.