From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

A Forgiving Heart

This morning, I was in a hurry to get home after running some errands. As I made the right turn into my neighborhood, which is slightly obscured by shrubs, a small boy in a bright yellow T-shirt flashed across the street in front of my car. He stood on the pedals of his red bike, legs pumping, oblivious to me—or any other danger—secure in a boy’s invincible immortality.

He passed inches, literally, from my front bumper. I slammed on my brakes, a meaningless physical reflex since he was already long gone. I was shaking, and it took a minute to catch my breath. In one terrible instant, that boy’s life surely could have ended. His parents would have been in pain forever, and my own life would have been a nightmare.

I continued down the street, recalling the image of the boy’s face. Magnified by my fright, I could clearly picture his eyes wide with a dazzling mix of bravado and fear, a bright haughty smile lit by yet another triumph over the dull world of adult concern. He was so startlingly energetic, so fearless that my shock at very nearly killing him was almost immediately replaced by anger bordering on fury.

Churning with rage—at his carelessness, not mine—I went home. The agitation my near-miss brought upon me troubled me most of the day. Then, at twilight, I remembered Mikey.

Growing up, Mike Roberts was my best buddy. My father was a doctor in a small Ohio River town, and my parents and Mike’s parents were close friends. In fact, his house was one vacant lot away from my father’s clinic.

Mikey, as we all called him, was adventurous and daring. His mother, Judy, was easy on us kids and made the best peanut butter cookies in the universe. They never locked their doors, and I had the run of their house.

One Friday, my mother planned to go to Cincinnati to shop and told me I should spend the day at the Roberts’s house. Judy was expecting me. I was not to eat too many cookies or ride my bike in the road.

When my mother left that morning, I set off on my bike to the Roberts’s house. I was about fifty yards from the turn that led to Mikey’s street when I heard a sound that I can still hear sometimes in dreams. It was the fierce squeal of tires when you put on the brakes really hard. It seemed to last for a very long time, although I am sure, in retrospect, that the noise died quickly. And then there was the harsh sound of metal crushing. In a flash, I took off on my bike and rounded the corner at full speed.

There was a truck in the road, turned almost sideways. Beyond the front fender was Mikey’s red Schwinn, folded so that it seemed to be just half a bike, two tires now flattened against each other.

Mikey was lying on the grass, a great hulk of a man bent over him. I got off my bike, dropped it, and ran to where my friend lay, silent and still on a carpet of leaves. At that instant, the front door of his house opened and his mother came out. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone run so fast. At the same time, a gurney appeared from my father’s clinic followed by my dad and an orderly.

Instantly, there was quite a crowd. Judy knelt at Mikey’s head and passed her hand gently over his forehead. My father told Judy not to move her son and bent to examine him. The truck driver sat down heavily a few feet away. He must have weighed over two hundred pounds. He had great round shoulders and a thick neck that had deep circles of wrinkles that shone with sweat. He had on blue coveralls and a red plaid shirt.

Now he sat on the grass like some stunned bull. His head rested on his drawn-up knees and his shoulders shook, but I don’t think he was crying.

I stared at the man, trying to make him feel how mad I was. He had probably not been paying attention, I thought. Not an unfamiliar failing among the adults I knew. They often seemed careless to me, and this one had hurt my friend. I wanted to hurt him back in some terrible way.

In a few minutes, Mikey was awake and crying. My father had him immobilized on a stretcher board and loaded onto the gurney. Judy held Mikey’s hand, and they all moved away into the clinic’s emergency entrance. I was left alone with the trucker who was now sitting with his head bowed on his crossed arms. His body was still shaking like he had a chill.

We sat in silence for what seemed a long time. Then Judy came out of the clinic’s front entrance and walked over to us. She said that Mikey would be fine. It was only his arm. It could have been much worse.

I thought she surely would slap the driver or at least give him a severe talking to. But what she actually did astonished me. She told him to come with her into her house. “And you, too,” she said to me.

She asked the driver his name and told him to sit by the fireplace and she would get some coffee. He raised his hand to wave her off but she brought coffee anyway, and milk and cookies for me. Stan, the driver, couldn’t eat or drink. He sat in the blue armchair, filling it completely. From time to time, he would shake and Judy would put her arm around his shoulder and talk to him in her wonderful gentle voice, “It’s not your fault. You weren’t speeding. Mikey takes stupid risks, and I am so sorry about that. I’m just grateful he wasn’t hurt badly. And I don’t blame you. You shouldn’t blame yourself, either.”

I listened to her incredulously. How could she say such things to the man who’d nearly killed her son, my friend? What was the matter with her? Before long, she got the driver sort of put back together—at least that’s how it looked to me— and he got up to leave.

As he reached the door he turned to her and said, “I have a boy, too. I know what it took for you to help me.”

Then, to add one more astonishment to the day, Judy stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek.

I had never been able to understand how Judy could offer ease and comfort to a man who had very nearly killed her child . . . until today, when I turned the corner into my familiar neighborhood and came within inches of what surely would have been a terrible and irreversible act.

Still trying to shake the dread that had occupied my mind all day, I thought of Mikey’s mother and that day in a long-ago autumn. And although there was no one there to comfort me, to tell me that I had not been at fault, that bad things do happen no matter how careful you are, the memory of that day reached across time to help me.

That one mother’s empathy, like all other gifts of goodness, had never left the world, and it could be called upon to console and heal. And would continue to do so . . . perhaps forever.

W. W. Meade

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