I drove down Georgetown Pike an early-fall afternoon in a long stream of traffic, through Great Falls in Virginia. Suddenly a car surged in front from the lane on the right. I pressed hard on the brake, but my car inched forward and struck the other car, a new Volvo, with a thud. My car had dents, but I could see that the Volvo had more damage.
I said, “I am sorry your car is damaged. I am also sorry I have upset you. My sincere apologies.”
He looked taken aback and controlled himself. He gave me his card and the name of his insurance company. I responded in kind. We agreed to talk the following day and took leave of each other. I said in parting, “I am very sorry that this has happened. I notice your wife is in the car; my apologies to her too.”
He called next morning. “I apologize,” he said, “for talking rudely to you. That was uncalled for. Let us share the necessary information.” We talked, beyond the necessary information, and I learned that his car did not start after the accident and he had to walk home with his wife. I regretted my oversight and said I would have driven him home if I had known.
The next day was my birthday, and I resented having to attend to my car instead of joining a party. I left the car at a body shop, who also arranged for me to pick up a rental car from the company next door. The repair shop manager was very pleasant. He offered me a cup of coffee and chatted me up; I felt I had made a friend.
The Volvo owner and I talked affably on the phone the next day and agreed to meet for lunch the following day. That morning his insurance company called me to say it accepted full liability for the accident, and I returned the rental car and went to retrieve my own car.
Most unexpectedly, the body shop manager gifted me a miniature American flag, made, he said, by his daughter, introduced me to his colleagues, and insisted on my sharing coffee and doughnuts with them. He said, “You came for work, but we have enjoyed meeting you. We will like you to visit us and have coffee whenever you are in this part of the town.” I was touched.
He added, “My insurance company told me this morning that the liability was mine. On the way to the restaurant, the thought occurred to me that, since you are getting the money for the accident, you should pay for the lunch. Then I was ashamed of the thought. So, I must pay for the lunch, for to let you pay would be to let the insidious thought win.”
I was almost glad that I had had the accident.