Last year, riding with my wife on the way to pick up my kids after middle school, a mini van pulls behind us. I can tell the driver is upset as she drives close behind me. But she goes further than a typical tailgater, weaving back and forth. When I don’t react, and just keep driving, the speed limit mind you, she starts waving her hands at me. I turn a few times, driving through a neighborhood by the school, and she stays right behind me. When I make the last turn, moving down the driveway in front of the school, she’s still there, still waving her hands at me, acting crazy.
My wife laughs as the lady drives on by as we pull into a spot, parking just a few car lengths ahead of us, in the fire lane where the school buses usually sit. She laughs because she sees that the lady will have to walk up to the school about the same time I will and it’s funny to think that the crazy lady will have to face the people she thought were just some random drivers. Turns out our kids are probably friends, attending the same aftercare program.
As I look at her, I start to think that it’s now my turn to be mad, to teach her that she shouldn’t act so crazy, especially when she drives by the school her own kids attend, along with mine.
I want to yell at her, to embarrass her if that’s what it takes, to teach her a lesson about not driving crazy around my kids. I think about the times when I’ve been this angry, about the time when I demanded of the confused lady on the phone, who mumbled and then finally asked me “who is this?”, that “you called me lady!” only to find out she was the mother of my brother’s best friend, calling to tell us Mark had been killed in a drunk driving accident.
But she looks down ground as she walks in my direction, already looking defeated. When she finally glances up, I avoid the temptation to ask her who the hell she thinks she is and instead hear myself ask her, “you doin’ o.k.?”
“No,” is all she says, almost whining, her body language telling me she’s desperate but not yet ready to talk about it. We walk in together, her walking in front, saying nothing. Once inside, we find ourselves standing together awkwardly, as our kids gather up their things. The effect of the kids on the adults is a little like that of Scout on the mob in To Kill A Mockingbird, when she says, “Tell Walter I said ‘hey.’” Pretty soon we’re not so riled up and, like the mob, just want to go home.
My wife joins us now and, as we stand there together silently, we recognize her kids from past pickups, the tension draining out of our postures as we wait. The lady’s anger seems to have surrendered when placed under the lights. My wife, sensing that things have cooled down, that there’s no need for lessons, gives the lady a look that says, “you may be crazy, but it’s o.k.”
Then the lady looks at us, stressed and embarrassed, and says, “I’m sorry.” “It’s just... there’s been, um, there’s been a.... we lost someone in our family and we really have to get home.” Then she turns to the kids, tells them to hurry, and obviously wants this scene to be over. But my wife won’t let it go so she walks up beside the lady, ignoring her pose that says, “leave me alone now.”
When the lady turns toward her, still silently saying, “I want this to be done,” my wife ignores it and stands there, demanding a hug. When the lady sees this, she gives in, hugs her back hard and the kids look up wondering what could have made these two adults hug for a long time in the middle of a middle school library, crying together.
As I look on, at this surreal scene that began with road rage and ended in embrace, I think of the quote Mr. Rogers carried in his wallet, described in The World According to Mr. Rogers, learning a lesson instead of teaching one to someone else. His favorite quote reads:
“There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love, once you’ve heard their story."