One day, while in my car with my son, Noah, a man eased his way out of his parking spot and hit our car.
It was a tap, a little bruise that will cost a few hundred dollars to repair. I got out of our car in a huff but reminded myself to be gentle and speak nicely to this man. I have anger in me. I don’t like it and am often ashamed when it comes out misplaced.
I showed the man the dent and suggested he give me his phone number, and I would call him with an estimate. He did so. While we talked, the Denting Man, likely in his 60s, asked me if we could keep this from his wife. He turned to me and with great sadness said, “My wife has six weeks to live.”
The Denting Man explained to me she was in an advanced stage of cancer and had just returned from Princess Margaret Hospital. He was saying there was nothing more they could do for her. He was so deflated. I asked him how long they had been together. He hesitated, and then said “40 years.” How must this be for him?
Imagine, this man knows when his wife will leave this Earth. Life consistently teaches us that the day of our death is kept a secret from us so that we live every day to its fullest. But that was not the situation here. While the Denting Man’s wife did not know the day, or minute, or the hour in which her breathing would stop, he knew “six weeks” and that’s significant enough to unseat his sure footing in the unknown.
I then had images in my mind, of a man, this man, struggling to make toast in the morning, and I could see dust gathering in the corners of his living room and dirty dishes on the table. I heard hollowness in his hallways.
The television was on. He was watching it but couldn’t care less about the victorious football team on the screen. He wanted his wife back, and all the triumphs in the world wouldn’t make him the victor.
All the Denting Man wanted was his wife. Monday Night Football was not produced for him. While we talked, I understood the Denting Man was a living man who was dying ever so slightly with his wife. Passersby wouldn’t have known that. Bus drivers peering down at him could not have sensed his tragedy, and store owners waiting for his $1.50 to pay for the local newspaper just had no idea.
I will tell my son this, one day. I’ll tell him that he should always consider that the person sitting across from him may have just failed at something or lost someone. I’ll suggest to him that he look closely at their eyes, even the wrinkles around their mouths to determine where they truly stand. Be gentle, I’ll tell him, and know that Judaism says we must be compassionate toward the stranger because you never know where they have just been or what they have just suffered. That is a reasonable lesson.
I didn’t call the Denting Man that day or the next. I found out his wife died a few weeks later though, and I went to the shivah. While we sat together, the Denting Man told me about his boat trips around the world. No mention of the dent ever came up.