When I was sixteen, I inherited my parents’ recently retired family car: a 1983 Honda Civic Wagon. The little Civic was very well used. It had over 150,000-miles on the clock, the upholstery was shot, neither the radio nor air conditioner worked, and it had a very nasty dent in the rear hatch where a drugged up thug had rear ended it with a stolen motorcycle on the interstate one night years before. The original brown paint was oxidized and there were rusted spots in the floor of the cargo area from the final trip of a worn out water heater. I questioned the integrity of the car on pretty much every point except for the fact that its running gear was in great shape. The little car’s heart was intact and it would reliably get me where I was going.
At that point in life, I did some of the stupid things that you can count on a sixteen year old boy to do. One night after playing with the band at a football game, I was driving one of my friends home prior to going home myself. The evening was cool and humid after nightfall. On nights like this, it was impossible to keep the windows clear, without a working air conditioner. So, I craned my head out the driver’s side window, thinking that solution was funnier than actually wiping a clear spot in the windshield that I could see out to drive. Oh, it was hilarious! My friend and I cackled at the hilarity of not being able to see out of the car but going anyway.
When I pulled into his driveway, my friend told me that I should rapidly back out of his driveway, possibly to the point of hitting the opposite curb with my tires, because that would be just too funny! Of course, I couldn’t see anything out the back window, but when he hopped out of the car, I readily complied, already too hopped up on whatever was so funny about all these decisions. When I backed onto the opposite sidewalk though, I heard the clang of the neighbor’s wrought iron mailbox snapping where the pole met the sidewalk, and the clatter and thump of it hitting the concrete. I heard my friend stifle his giggling as he scuttled to the front door of his home, as I put the car into gear to rush home in my panic.
I was generally a good kid that got a little carried away from time to time. Evidently, angels watched over me as none of these antics resulted in death or injury, but my conscience nagged me with that mailbox that I had damaged. So, the next day I got the neighbor’s phone number and gave him a call. I was at a time in life where I was making immature boyish decisions in the heat of the moment, but trying my hardest despite myself to man up and take responsibility. I’d had some difficult conversations before, but that one was one that I really had to psych myself up for. What would he say? I was sure he’d be angry. I had decided that if it came to it, I would pay for a replacement mailbox, although it surely would not be a cheap proposition.
“Hi, my name is Evyl Robot and I’m the one who ran over your mailbox last night.”
“Yes sir. I’m really sorry. It was an accident, and I’d like to make it right.”
*…uncomfortable silent pause…*
“You weren’t paying very much attention to what you were doing, were you?”
“No, I wasn’t. I feel really bad. Can I buy you a new mailbox?”
*…yet another uncomfortable pause…* I don’t think the guy knew what to make of the situation.
“Evyl, you aren’t the first person to hit my mailbox and break it.”
“I’m impressed with your honesty, and judging from your tone, I believe you’ve learned your lesson.”
“Well, sure. But, can I do anything about your mailbox?”
“It’s going to take me a two dollar tube of epoxy and about an hour to make it right.”
“Do you want me to pick up the epoxy and glue your mailbox back together?”
“No. Not this time. I want you to drive more carefully in the future.”
And, that was the end of it. To the man whose mailbox I toppled, it was an awkward phone conversation with a teenager, a tube of epoxy, and an afternoon in the open air. To me, it was a growing experience. It was one of many events that taught me that my actions have consequences. Some of them are good and others are bad, and I need to consider possible outcomes before I rashly take action. I was struck with the possibility that driving like that, I could just as easily hit a dog or God forbid a person, as I could a mailbox. Also, I saw grace. I didn’t deserve to not have to do anything about that mailbox. If that guy had demanded that I not only pay for a replacement mailbox, but also pay a contractor to professionally install it, it would have been perfectly fair. I knew that. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I knew what was right. But, he didn’t do that. Frankly, I think he was way too nice about it, but his willingness to let it go is something that I’ll never forget. Everyone makes mistakes, but it is what lessons we take away from our mistakes that defines us as people.