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Learning from the Man Who Kicked in My Car Door

Wasfi Akab

John Cuddeback - published on 03/26/14

He'll have a Final Judgment one day - but so will I.

Actually, I wasn’t even there. My wife was driving in downtown Washington, D.C. when it happened. Our 2004 Suburban has seen better days — would that my annual income were half the number of miles it has. But it was not the damage to the passenger side door that was so disturbing.

We had finally found an afternoon for my wife’s long-awaited outing to the National Museum of Art. A mother of six does not get very many afternoons off. The special exhibit of Byzantine art was the perfect reason for a special half-day getaway. I would take the afternoon off and watch the children at home. Everything was set.

My wife was making a right-turn on red. The crosswalk actually had a red hand since the street into which she was turning had a green light for vehicles. A man — carefully dressed in the increasingly popular, and expensive, technical wear and with the newest iPhone pressed to his ear — had just stepped into the cross walk. The reality of my wife’s car jolted him back to the presence of his body on a DC street. But apparently oblivious to the fact that he was where he did not belong, he wildly gesticulated in anger. Of course pedestrians always have the right-of-way, even when they are where they don’t belong. But with more vehicle traffic approaching from the left behind her, my wife had to make a quick decision. Since the man had stopped, she started up again, only to find that he started walking again too. As she crossed in front of him, expletives punctuated his impressive kick (perhaps his technical gear was not mere vanity) to the front passenger door. My wife could hardly believe what happened. Shocked and confused she struggled to proceed safely as she gazed through her tears.

Imagine being the husband listening to the retelling of this sordid affair later that night. It will perhaps be appreciated that my mind immediately started to range over a number of options, most of which would have been rather serious sins of revenge. But one thought kept coming to me.

That was an angry man. How dare he take his anger out on someone who innocently crossed his path? Literally. I understand that we all have our anger issues, normally rooted in our hurt issues. But isn’t it basic decency not to flame out at people that have not the slightest fault in our own issues?

While I was more or less succeeding in taming the more extreme inclinations I was feeling, I could not get around the desire at least to see the man, to be able to express in some way, what a beast he had been. My thoughts turned to the Final Judgment. In any case, I would be able to see him then in a very satisfying context — where perfect justice will be rendered for every wrongdoing, even if he himself had forgotten this transgression, perhaps lost in the jumble of what was assuredly quite a number.

I pictured what I would say to him (as though I wouldn’t have better things to do, or worry about…). I could feel the words forming on my lips as I walked up to him: “You son of….”

And then it happened. It was as though I was really there at the Final Judgment, jolted out of my completely self-absorbed universe. And the words were filled in for me: “God.” “You son of God.”

Suddenly, all was light, and everything came crashing in on me. Will the Final Judgment be a place where everyone, especially God, finally gets even? I wonder how many people are looking forward to catching up with me one day.

But most of all, it was the specific condemnation my conscience had issued on that man.

“That was an angry man. How dare he take his anger out on someone who innocently crossed his path?”

Dear God. That man is me. Might not my very own children say that to me? And with how much more reason could they?

I have resolved not to forget the man who kicked in my car door. Perhaps never again will I have such an opportunity to see myself unveiled in the court of my own judgment. If there is in me the good sense to take to heart what I have seen, then surely there is yet hope — hope in the Mercy that created the world; and redeemed the world; and can lead the likes of me to see things as He does, if I am but willing.

Dr. John Cuddeback, professor of philosophy at Christendom College, is a member of the Aleteia board of experts and author of Bacon from Acorns, a blog devoted to the oft-neglected "philosophy of household." He is also the author of True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness.

FaithPracticing Mercy
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