The Shepherd's Staff
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This article was written by a mother in our community who wishes to remain anonymous.
“Just keep it together,” I said irritably, walking the shopping cart away from my squawking children. A man passed me at a short distance as the words tumbled out, and since by that point I was actually too far away from my car to be heard by the kids, I caught myself wondering if he registered it. A woman pushing an empty cart toward a store reminding herself audibly to “keep it together” would raise a red flag; maybe I should feel embarrassed.
The thought flew off as quickly as it came. I have bigger concerns, like how I’m going to get through the rest of this evening caring for the girls at their father’s house without my nervous system shutting down. I have to finish writing for a grant with an immediate deadline, and I need my faculties intact. But the reality of my moment is that I’m functioning on three hours of sleep, because I taught a sunrise yoga class an hour away, because I’m saying yes to all reasonably productive gigs, because I’m still formulating the means by which I make my ends meet. And because my own bed is twenty minutes to the north, and I’m teaching again at sunrise in the south, and gas is five dollars a gallon, I’m sleeping in the guest room. The fact is that I am exhausted. I am also grieving, because of how being around their dad drains every good feeling from my body.
Putting the car into gear and looking over my right shoulder, I promptly crash into a vehicle behind me.
To be fair, I truly did not, and really could not, have seen it. It was tucked neatly into my blind spot, blocked by the back of my chair, and the row of car seats.
I re-park my car and hop out. Sure enough, I’d hit the vehicle of the man who had been walking past me a moment before. I’d backed right up into his nose, as he was pulling forward.
Now we’re both staring at the bumper of his Mercedes: nothing. Nary a scratch.
We turn to look at my Corolla: corner of bumper bashed in, plastic wrenched open down to the metal frame, taillight tilting outward as though it hoped to hitch a ride with someone else as soon as possible.
“Oh man,” says the man, remorse all over his face. We know it was my fault—backing up, not seeing him—but he immediately offers his personal phone number (he even says the word “personal” before saying “phone number”) and to split the cost of repairs. My only awareness is of how trivial something like a car bumper is, in the grand scheme of things, when worlds are collapsing. Yet here is an individual who feels troubled enough by my small cosmetic catastrophe that he wants to share it, to carry it together. He goes on to tell me how much he values good karma. He points out that I have kids (no need to rub it in). He gives me his personal phone number. I drive away.
After an early dinner, I outsource mothering to The Lion King and sit down to work on my artist statement. I can’t help but think: imagine if I had collided with an average bear, who cared only about his own bumper, and couldn’t hide his snark as he bid me farewell. Imagine how much worse I would be for the wear, no hope of getting through the evening intact, no chance of finishing the proposal, otherwise nice-looking car all jacked-up, cortisol skyrocketing.
Will I get my bumper fixed? I might never even get an estimate. But D. Hunter, I know you’re out there. It’s a comforting thought. You sincerely supported me in a vulnerable moment, and genuinely cared about my peace. This is what our nervous systems need. This is how we keep each other safe. This is how we heal the world with every step we take.
And maybe one day, I’ll think: remember that time I was driving under the influence of strong inner turmoil and a perfect stranger treated me so tenderly that it lifted my spirits, and then I wrote a laser-sharp statement and got the grant?
At the very least, whenever my eyes linger on the back of my car, I’ll sense the grace in the grizzle.
Life is touch-and-go, my friends. Take off your gloves.