Sunday, July 17, 2016

Let it go

     A woman called my office.  From Northbrook. She started by explaining that she had already contacted a local reporter, but the local reporter "wouldn't touch" her story. Now it was my turn. 
     The story involved a minor traffic accident, maybe six months ago. Or longer. Something she had witnessed, perhaps. She was driving, in line to make a left hand turn. A black van, in front of her, pulled back and veered to the right, across traffic. The car in front of that, was a Mercedes. A kid in the passenger seat turned around and looked at her.
     The story pelted me like a sudden rain. When she got home, she heard from the police. She had been reported for leaving the scene of an accident. The driver of the Mercedes thought it was her, and not the black van, that had hit them.  The caller said the police came to her home to see her car was undamaged, but she ended up signing a ticket saying she had failed to reduce speed to avoid an accident. It didn't quite stack up, but I couldn't get a word in edgewise. Detail piled upon detail. Complaints to the mayor. The chief of police. I was obviously the end of a very long chain of woe.  She wanted to make sure this never happened to anyone ever again. She said that several times.
     I tried to get a word in, but she wasn't having it. 
     This is a story that I call "a dog's breakfast"—a jumbled collection of glop. It would never go in the paper. To do so, I'd have to contact the police, find the other driver, and for what? A traffic ticket that may or may not have been issued fairly. 
     Obviously very important to her, though. I listened. She mentioned a husband—that's good, somebody helping her out, maybe. And a daughter, a cop somewhere else. Also good.
    Eventually I had to break in. 
    "You called me," I interrupted her in mid-sentence. "Don't you want to hear what I have to say?"
     She paused, startled. I told her I didn't think it would ever get into the newspaper, because, while important to her, it wasn't the kind of story that anyone else would be interested in. Even though she thought she was treated very badly by the police.
     "People think it only happens to black people, but it happens to white people too," she said, exaggerating the harm done to her.  In fact, no harm, other than having to hire a lawyer and months of worry, seemed to have happened.
    "How did it end?" I asked. "How did the court case end?"
    The woman she supposedly hit never showed up in court and the case was dismissed.
    Really not a story at all. But something that filled her world. I could see that. I tried to be sympathetic, to not shut her down. 
    I told the woman, she should have her daughter call me.
    "She doesn't want her name in the paper," she said.
    "I'm not putting anything in the paper," I said. "At least not right now. I just want to hear her perspective on this." 
     "She's in Denmark, on vacation," she snapped. 
     "I'm not in any rush," I replied.
     Asking for the daughter seemed to change her tone.
     "I feel like I'm wasting your time and you're wasting my time," she said.
     I agreed, and gave her a piece of parting advice.
    "I can see how this has been a stressful and difficult situation," I said. "But you should let it go now."
     I asked her how long she had lived in Northbrook. She said 30 years. If this is the bad thing that is going to happen in Northbrook, I'd say she's doing pretty well. But it wasn't the only bad thing. There was another misfortune, even greater than this one, and she started in on that.  I won't tell you anything about that, but it was a true tragedy. 
     I told her I was sorry for her troubles and got off the phone. 
    After hanging up, I chewed on what had happened. There was an injustice, in this woman's mind. And she wasn't letting go. Instead, she was living in this bad thing that supposedly happened to her, gnawing on the details, suffering anew each time. Maybe motivated by this actual tragedy that she hadn't let go of either, years ago.  
    Let it go. Easy advice to give. Hard advice to take.  I believe it takes practice, stiff-arming worries and complaints that you'd like to embrace hard and hold onto. Don't. Let it go. Bad things happen to everybody, minor annoyances and great tragedies and yes, sometimes you have to seek elusive justice, and pursue it over the years, and I'm not saying that isn't sometimes important. But the things people cling to are often complaints that will never find resolution. All you can do is put them away, eventually.  Life is precious, and short, and most of us have it pretty good, if you see how other people live, trapped in cages of their own making. Let it go.


  1. Good advice. Especially with so many really bad things going on around us, we don't need to hold onto even more grievances.

  2. You were much, much more patient than I would have been.

    Years ago, some woman called me at the community newspaper where I worked, fuming about how her elderly mother was the victim of "an engineering malfunction" that made her car accelerate suddenly and crash into the rear of a car ahead of her.

    I said, "Ma'am, here's what you do. Get your mother a sheet of paper..."


    "...and have her write out a hundred times, 'The brake is on the left, the gas is on the right.' "

    She called me a short, unpleasant name and slammed down the phone.

    Bitter Scribe

    1. That remenids me of a really long ago Royko column.
      A Park District employee called him about a woman complaining that there wasn't any ice in the park's ice rink. The PD employee told her that it was far too warm for ice & she'd have to wait until it was colder.
      Her response: "I knew you guys would have an excuse!"

  3. Dr. Johnson had some good advice to those who look to authority, secular or divine, to deal with their daily dilemmas.

    "How small, of all that human hearts endure,
    That part which laws, or Kings can cure.
    Still to ourselves, in every place consign'd
    Our own felicity we make or find."

    Tom Evans


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