The other day, we were about 3 hours into our 4.5 hour journey to St. Louis so Adellyn could spend some time with her dad and grandparents for Christmas.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, I was side-swiped as a car changed lanes without looking, and this was the first time I had driven on the highway since getting my car back after the accident. It was a cold and blustery winter day, but to that point, the drive had been fairly uneventful.
Adellyn was soaking up How the Grinch Stole Christmas, holding her elf, Twink, who had miraculously bottled herself into a mason jar so she could make the trek (a Pinterest idea that actually worked!) in the backseat, while I was catching up on podcasts.
As we were driving down the highway, a wind gust pushed the car a little, when I noticed the hood of my car begin to flap. Not exactly what you want to see when you find yourself in the middle of Nowhere, Illinois.
“Mom, I have to go potty,” A said.
I pulled off at the next exit. Standing outside the gas station, I could fit my whole hand underneath the hood of the car while it was supposed to be down and latched. I lifted the hood a few inches and let it go, hoping it would latch. It bounced.
“That hood of yours doesn’t look good,” a gas station employee said from behind me. He must have been watching my naive tinkering. “Why don’t you take it over there to Wilkerson’s and have them look at. Take a left out of here, and it’s two doors down on the left.”
I thanked God for the friendly advice of a stranger, and that “by chance,” an auto body shop happened to be two doors down from the random exit I chose. I loaded up the kiddo and Twink, who was still traveling via mason jar, and head to Wilkerson’s.
My blood pressure and pulse were slightly elevated. I was in both panic and problem solving mode as I walked in the door. I could hear my voice start to crack as I explained to the guy behind the counter that I thought something was wrong with the latch for the hood of my car.
As a single mom, I can handle most of the things most of the time. There are a few things, however, that are guaranteed to tip me over the edge – car issues being one of them.
“Don’t you worry, ma’am,” he said. “Take a seat and we’ll take a look at it.” I think he knew I was about to lose it.
He walked outside, tinkered with the latch, went to get another guy and they tinkered with it. He came back in the door. “Your hood latch is broken,” he said. “You’re definitely going to need it to be replaced.”
“Is it safe to drive? Is there anything you can do to fix it temporarily so I can get my daughter to St. Louis and get home again tonight?” I asked, still fighting to keep control of my voice and alllllll of the feels of the moment.
Fifteen minutes later, my hood was wire-tied to a piece of metal in the front of my car, and I was back on the road. While they assured me it would be secure enough to make the trip, I didn’t take a full breath until I pulled into my driveway 8 hours later.
While I was on the road, I called the collision shop that had worked on my car to let them know about the problem. While the hood wasn’t involved in the accident, they agreed that the broken latch was suspicious, and told me to bring it in first thing the next day so they could take a look.
At 7:42, I arrived at the shop with my coffee in hand, prepared to be there for a few minutes as they determined what was broken, if it was a result of the accident and who was going to pay for it.
Nearly an hour later, the customer service manager walked out.
“I wanted to give you an update, Ms. Clark,” he said, sitting down in an open seat near me. “I know you’ve been waiting for a little while, and as suspected, the hood latch is broken. We’ve taken a look at it, and can’t find any reason that it would have been damaged in the accident, so I can’t charge it to the insurance company. Although it is an odd coincidence that it broke within a week of you getting your car back, an insurance company wouldn’t accept a charge for something like that.”
I was preparing to begin the loop de loop conversation about how, although I’ve never had any previous problems with it, and how they were the last ones to have touched it, I’m going to be responsible for paying for it to get fixed.
He continued. “After our phone call yesterday, I went ahead and ordered a latch to have on hand today, so it’s being installed right now and should be done within the next 5-10 minutes. While it’s not something the insurance company will cover, from a customer service perspective, it’s not something I feel right charging you for, so just so you know, there will be no charge today.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I’m a single mom, and while most days, I can handle most things, car stuff just really makes me feel out of my comfort zone, so I appreciate your consideration.”
All of sudden his eyes welled up with tears. “Since you said that, would you mind if I shared a little bit of my story,” he asked?
“Yeah, sure,” I replied.
“I am the son of a single mom, and growing up, I watched my mom get tangled up with a mechanic. She would have car trouble, take her car to the mechanic and not be able to afford the repairs. He would tell her she could make payments, and then just before she would finish making her payments, something else would break and the cycle would start all over again. I just never trusted him and always felt like she was getting scammed.”
“So,” he continued, “I started teaching myself and learning how to fix cars. I just couldn’t bear to stand by and do nothing for my mom. And it all just kind of went from there. That’s how I ended up getting into this whole industry in the first place. I always felt like my mom deserved more.”
“That’s incredible,” I said, fighting back my own tears.
“I had no idea that you were a single mom, but in general, I always try to make sure that we treat our customers in a way that makes them say wow, not wonder if they’re being scammed. Anyway, thanks for letting me share a bit of my story, this has been another reminder for me to continue doing the right thing.”
“Thank you,” I said again. “I really appreciate it.”
There are so, so many terrifying and heartbreaking stories that are our reality both here in the U.S. and around the world. There are days where I find myself at a loss for words and uncertain about how to feel.
But today, an early morning conversation with a collision repair manager reminded me that our greatest sources of pain can be used to be our greatest areas of influence. The pain we feel from our hardest days can produce an empathy that fuels us to meet others who are treading the same path. And when that happens, it literally takes your breath away. It’s the beauty and love and kindness that our world has the potential to behold.
Could it be that possible that perhaps a person or a platform or an office or a title won’t be what changes our world.
Could be as simple as one decision made at a time, over time, every time by you and me?
Us, the people who work at the collision centers and the coffee shops, the grocery stores and gas stations, the bookstores and the bakeries, committed to making people say wow instead of feeling scammed. Committed to ensuring that people know they are seen and not slighted, loved and not left on the margin. Committing to taking the high road, choosing to give the benefit of the doubt, choosing to show up with love and for love of our fellow person time and again.
Five minutes later, he pulled my car around to the front and left it running to stay warm. “Your car is ready, Ms. Clark. My apologies that you had to come back. Take good care.”
“Merry Christmas,” I said, as I walked out the door.
As soon as I climbed into my car, the tears fell like rain.