I was reading Molly Talbert’s recent article on Bay Are Rapid Transit’s response to angry riders’ tweets about service delays and outages. Apart from being a great article, it reminded me of one of those formative moments in my life that I don’t often dwell on. Despite that, when I do think about it, it’s one of the most vivid formative moments in my life. It’s also one of the first times I truly appreciated how much my parents could teach me, especially my mom. And, since I don’t have any money for a Mother’s Day gift this year, hopefully this will do. Love you, Mom.
I was 11 or 12 years old, at the age when you start to think about big things like life and death and whether or not you fit in at school. My mother was driving my brothers and me home from some kind of school function—and she was in a bit of a hurry, as anyone would be with two pre-teens and a toddler bickering in the back seat—when we all heard a thump under the car.
My mother made the groan/sigh noise people make when they mess up and uttered an, “Oh, Jesus.” Then she pulled the car over, and my brothers and I went silent. She threw the car into park and got out, returning a moment later with a small dog, limp in her arms.
With tears streaming down her cheeks, Mom placed the dog on the front seat and drove to the address on its collar. Once in the driveway, she asked me to walk to the front door with her while my younger brothers waited in the car. As my mother and I approached the house, I bristled with anticipation at what might happen next. And as the dog’s owner answered the door and frowned at us as she realized what had happened, I knew that my mother had done something brave in facing and admitting her mistake.
My mother handed the dog to the woman and explained everything. She took responsibility for the situation when so many others would have left the family’s pet on the road and driven off. I watched as the woman berated my mother, sobbing over her dead pet. My mother did not yell back or try to explain the situation away, she accepted the woman’s anger with empathy and did what she could to apologize. We left after the woman had her fill of yelling, and we were all silent the rest of the way home.
The woman may never have forgiven my mother, and maybe she will never appreciate the courage it took for my mother to take responsibility for what happened. But in that moment, my mother taught me that empathy, transparency, and courage are not just buzz words thrown around in church or in school or in the boardroom. They’re words to live by in every moment of your life.