About 10 years ago money was tight and I knew I needed to find a part time job. The problem was that my family was young and I didn’t want to work nights and miss out on making memories with them. Well, after a fruitless search I heard from a friend of a friend about an early morning paper route. It seemed like a good fit so I jumped on it.
If I’m being honest, it was fun. Waaaaayyyy too early, but fun. I got so good at flinging those papers I felt like it was a game. I could have my window rolled down and not even slow the car. There was something beautiful, almost poetic, about being able to toss the paper just right and watch it slide right up to the person’s door.
Well, my pride bit me in the but one morning. At that time I was driving an old minivan and the brakes were shot! I had to refill the brake fluid about once a day. On this fateful morning I was running late for my day job and thought I would be okay if I waited to fill the fluid. Bad choice. I came to the one house where I had to stop and turn around but as I pumped the brakes, nada. I started pumping frantically but to no avail. Time seemed to slow to a crawl. I watched in horror as I slammed into the front of the house. Granted I wasn’t going very fast, but it was still enough to crunch the poor guy’s rain gutter and siding. It was 6 am and I wasn’t sure what to do. I contemplated just leaving. He’d probably never know. His house happened to be close to the college and if I was lucky, I thought, he would just blame it on the frat house down the street.
I’m happy to say I have a little more integrity than that and I knocked on his door. No one answered. I knocked again and still no reply. I scribbled a quick note and told him I would return in the afternoon to take care of my mess. After work I went to the hardware store and bought a rain gutter that looked like it matched the brown one I had demolished.
Now, here is where the powerful life lesson happens. When I returned that afternoon and the knocked on the door, an older gentleman answered. He smiled widely at me and asked what he could do for me. I told him, “Well, I’m your paper delivery guy…” and before I could finish he stopped me and said, “Can I just tell you what a fine job you do? You always get the paper right next to the door. I appreciate that.”
Great! Now what?
I wanted to turn around and say thanks and drive away. Instead, I thanked him and said something like, “I made a big mistake this morning. I kind of ran into your house.” He blinked then said, “Well, accidents happen. Are you okay?”
Who was this guy?! Did he mishear me? Maybe he needed to turn up his Miracle Ear.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” I said, “but I destroyed your gutter and a lot of siding on the front of your house.”
He replied, “Well let’s go take a look.”
I helped him down his porch steps and we stood side by side surveying the damage. Me with my head hung in embarrassment, him with a thoughtful look on his face. After a few minutes he turned to me, smiled, and said, “Like I said, accidents happen.” Then he said something that has stayed with me and always will: “It’s only a thing.”
I was stunned. He patted me on the back and continued. “Don’t beat yourself up about this. Let it go. I appreciate you being honest with me.”
“I have to replace this. I need to make this better,” I stammered.
“No. You don’t,” he said with a smile.
“Look, it would really make me feel better if did something. I’ve already bought the rain gutter and would really like to replace it,” I said.
“Well, that was unnecessary, but I can see that this is important to you so go ahead,” was his reply.
He went inside and I got to work. About an hour later (I’m not handy at all so it took me forever!) I invited him back out to see if my work was acceptable. Let me just say this: the brown rain gutter I picked out would have matched his house about 10 years ago. Whereas mine was brand new, his had been weathered to a faded brown. It was obvious that someone had replaced it and in my opinion looked horrible. But this good man took the time to look at it from every angle, shake it to test it’s stability, then looked at me and smiled again. He reached for the wallet in his back pocket and said, “You do fine work. How much do I owe you?”
Wha…? He was serious! He started taking out money and trying to give it to me.
“I ran into your house. This is quite literally the least I can do. You don’t owe me anything and I refuse to take any money,” I said. He returned the cash to his wallet and returned it to his back pocket.
“I’m going to call someone this afternoon to come out and look at your siding. I think I can have it replaced by…” I started. He cut me off and for the first time in my very brief encounter with him looked angry. “Now you listen here young man. Stop. You are not going to replace my siding. I refuse to let you. I told you, it’s just a thing!” His expression softened and he concluded by telling me, “You can let this go. I promise everything is fine. Besides, I think it gives my house some character.”
I drove away in absolute bewilderment. How? How could he be so calm? So kind? So ready to forgive and forget? I’m not sure I have the answer to any of those questions for him, but I can say that for me, this lesson has been powerful enough to cause me to be a little kinder, a little more forgiving when someone wrongs me.
I know this story seems unbelievable. I’m not sure I would fully buy it, but I actually kept the rain gutter to remind me. It’s propped up in my office as a constant reminder to be kind to people and forgive quickly.
Afterall, most of life is “just a thing”.