The strangeness of mercy

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One way to look at it is that I was born a child of mischief; one who rebelled within the womb, refusing to appear as the long-expected son of my father, and arrived as a girl instead.

Probably taken after I got caught doing something naughty. That's me not smiling.

Probably taken after I got caught doing something naughty. That’s me not smiling.

In the narrative of my own creation, a bad-natured fairy sprinkled me with fairy dust composed of curiosity, naughtiness, and a bit of bad luck. How else explain that I rarely got away with anything, and my older sister almost always did.

 

I disliked getting caught and punished and tried to cover my tracks, but sooner or later my sins found me out, barking and baying until someone in authority – parents or teachers – nabbed me.

 

None of my punishments lessened my curiosity or desire to explore the forbidden – cigarettes, the sugar bowl, other people’s mail, or the contents of my parents’ dresser. Curiosity, which killed the cat, just gave me a sore bottom.

 

Years later I realized how I had mistaken mercy for bad-naturedness on the part of that fairy. If I had had the bad luck to get away with all of my naughtiness, I would probably be writing my blog from a jail cell. (Of course, there’s no way to be sure I’m not; you’ll just have to take my word for it.)

 

Getting caught helped me understand consequences in a way nothing else could. I thought of this last month when someone sideswiped my car in the campus parking lot.

 

The first thing I noticed when I approached my car as I was leaving school was a rectangular piece of black plastic lying on the ground near my bumper. It was a car license plate sheathed in a plastic holder lying upside down. I picked it up to place it on a snow mound so the driver could see it when he or she returned, and that’s when I noticed the damage to the side of my car.

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I contacted school security, explained the situation, and gave them the license plate number. It didn’t take long to track down the individual, based on his school-parking permit. He assured the security officers that he had written me a note and placed it on my windshield.

 

In this tale, the wind, angry with him perhaps for some long-forgotten curse against its coldness, tore the note away, carrying it far from the parking lot. And while he was placing the note on my windshield, no doubt taking full responsibility for what he had done and overcome by remorse, his tear-filled eyes apparently failed to see his fallen license plate, black on white, doing its best to be seen.

 

This story made me smile, and would have even been plausible if there had been any wind that day, or if the snow which wasn’t falling that day had temporarily blinded him so he couldn’t see  the license plate lying there in plain sight, letting all the world know where to find him. Nevertheless, I agreed that it was a good story that could have happened and not too bad for a first draft.

 

His insurance paid for the damage; and one hopes, next time he really will leave a note. I didn’t report him to the city police. Had I done so, he would have been charged with leaving the scene of an accident.

 

He’s a young man yet and has a chance to learn that the best stories are true whether they really happened or not. I like to think we were dusted by the same fairy, fated to get away with nothing.

 

Though he may view me now as a bad-natured old woman, who uncovered his furtive deed and caused his insurance rates to go up, I have hope that one day he will see me as a merciful old woman who helped him get caught – just in time.

 

License photo: Alias 0591 from the Netherlands