The strangeness of mercy


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.


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 

31 thoughts on “The strangeness of mercy

    • In the beginning of the year, I picked mercy as a theme for the year, not thinking that I would need to be in situations like this to extend mercy. Next year I think I should choose a different theme – maybe justice or revenge. 🙂

  1. What a relief it is to be caught, and so be freed from the burden of regret. If you are caught you are punished, which means you have really made up for what you have done. In comparison, getting away with something leaves you with an unpleasant taste in the mouth, removable only by public shaming and jail, neither of which are convenient.

    • Thank you for your comments. I agree, getting caught is both a relief and an opportunity – if we want it to be. We can stop going down the road that leads to nowhere and change course.

  2. You were lucky, yearstruck… not at all unlucky. That curiosity singled you out, and made you the likely candidate whenever a drawer had been rifled or cigarettes went missing. You had that internal spice, which it seems to me, has stayed with you all your life. It’s worth the sore bottom, and the occasional anger, and being a wall flower when the squares have a dance, ‘cause it makes you different. Some see it, and some don’t… but it’s so precious, it makes all the trials of life worth while. As for the klutz who sideswiped you… he learned to drive, but had no control. When surprised by his own limitations, stepped on the gas to get out of town immediately. Mercy on his soul. Good thing you didn’t call the police… on that, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

    • I was a bit of a solitary child with several strange habits. I realize now that we are all strange to a certain extent.

      I wanted to give the young man another chance, and once he was presented with the evidence he accepted his culpability and didn’t contest anything. So I have to give that to him.

  3. I hope, quite fervently, that this same fairy dusted my middle child with the same dust with which she lambasted you. My first child is so truthful that he couldn’t get away with mischief even if he wanted to. In fact, I call him “the Informer” because he informs on himself, his brothers, and the neighbor children as well. But my middle child was given a sneaky side, and no guilty conscience to tame it. I can only hope that I have caught him (and will continue to catch him) enough times to teach him that his actions have consequences, and not to teach him to be even more devious to avoid said consequences. I’m still unsure as to which lesson he is learning right now. Perhaps, that is why he was blessed with my first child as his big brother, so he’d have someone watching even when I’m not.

    • I’m glad the older child is forthcoming about his actions. Let’s hope that the second one learns from getting caught. It took quite a while for me – I am afraid I am pigheaded or thickheaded or possibly both.

  4. You were very kind to that young man. I only hope down the road that when he has grown up he will realize just how lucky he was during this encounter with you.

  5. Today it really does seem like nobody can get away with anything, and the consequences are often severe — suspension, expulsion, etc. No mistakes or errors in judgment are permitted.

    I think what you did was just right — he will think next time, hopefully not try to skip out on his responsibility. Just right.

  6. That was absolutely delightful to read. You really were very kind.

    Believe it or not, such silliness is not unusual. Last year there was a hit and run in which the guy left behind part of his bumper with his license plate still attached to it.

    There really is nothing new under the sun when it comes to human stupidity, but I am starting to wonder if they might all be passing around a handbook or something? I’m really annoyed, nobody ever showed me a handbook.

  7. motherhendiaries

    Are you sure we aren’t related? I think we had the same exact childhood… Seriously. To this day, if I’m contemplating doing something really stupid -like doing 90 in a 70 zone, I remind myself that I WILL, I absolutely WILL get caught. As a child, I got away with pretty much nothing. I was a poor liar on the best of days, but not for lack of trying… On the upside, there wasn’t a lot my kids ever tried to get up to that I had not already done and been caught at. It’s pretty tough to pull a fast one on anyone with such a record. And I gotta say, well played with the college kid… you are one canny lady.

    • It’s possible we are related. My mother was married four times.

      Getting caught early and often probably helped me avoid a life of crime, but I still have that nagging sense of guilt when I see police officers. 🙂

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