Monday, November 12, 2007

Repairing a Dent on My Car

I park my Honda Civic on the street in Queens. About two years ago, I walked out to my car to discover a small dent in the left front fender. I am sure that someone had tried to park next to my car, missed, and their bumper went into my fender. And of course, there was no business card or insurance information from the person who damaged my car. I suppose you could call it a “dent and run.” I was frustrated and angry, especially that the person did not take responsibility for their mistake.

I did not do anything about the dent. I would go to my car each day, sometimes notice the dent and feel a touch of frustration, and then go about my day. This went on for about two years. I’m not sure why I kept looking at that dent but not doing anything about it. I suppose this would be good for a sermon about procrastination.

Finally, this past September, I was driving near the Temple and saw an auto-body shop. So I pulled into the driveway. The mechanic was helping another woman with her car. I waited. She left. Then he went back into the shop. I had been there for about 5 minutes, without the mechanic acknowledging my existence or helping me. I was feeling a little impatient, but I decided to keep my mouth shut and see what would happen.

A few moments later, the mechanic came over to me, and I showed him the dent. He went into his tool box, pulled out a small metal cylinder, and hammered the dent right out of my fender. I reached into my wallet to pay him, and he said: “There’s no charge. It’s my good deed of the day.” I smiled, thanked him and drove off to the Temple.

As I thought about this small event that made me feel so good, I realized that maybe there was a lesson here about patience. At any point in the five minutes that I waited at the auto body shop, I could have interrupted the mechanic and asked him to help me. I could have been rude or unkind, feeling that I was entitled not to wait. But if I had not stood there patiently, he probably would not have fixed the dent that day, and he certainly would not have done it for free.

Patience is not an easy trait to come by in the 21st Century. With the internet, email and cell phones, we can connect to other people in an instant. And when we go to the auto body shop, or a restaurant we expect to be taken care of immediately. We even have a way of acknowledging if someone attended to our needs quickly enough, by how we tip the waiter or the cab driver or the bell boy.

It’s perfectly natural to want what we want when we want it. But this kind of impatience may not serve us particularly well. After leaving Egypt, Moses went up the mountain to speak to God. He was up there a long time, and the people down below became impatient. They built a golden calf for themselves and began to worship and bow down to it. Moses runs down the mountain, angry at the people. He makes them grind up the calf into dust, and drink it in their water. It was natural for the people to be impatient and scared without Moses their leader. But the problem arose when they decided to act, to build the calf.

Often, we too have the choice of acting on our impatience or just waiting a little longer. In our everyday lives, at the auto body shop or in the restaurant, if we remember a little bit of patience, we may find ourselves with a dent fixed for free or a better table. And for our more complex problems, in our families, at work or with our friends, if we draw upon a reserve of patience, we may discover new ways to deal with difficult situations.

It took me two years to get that dent repaired in my car. There is surely a fine line between patience and procrastination. Yet sometimes in life the dents that we live with take time to hammer out. And if we can offer ourselves, and the other people in our lives, some time and a bit of patience, we my find a way to work out even the most difficult of problems.


BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

An excellent post.

Sometimes we put something off because we fear it will take work or cost more, and ultimately, the end result is to our benefit, and maybe even without cost.

Mitch MD said...

Amen Rabbi,

Thinking things through rather than acting on impulse is great lesson for us all. The hard part is making this response a behavior pattern. In the long run, I agree, one is more apt to get what one wants. Not that this should be the motivating factor. Ultimately, this behavior response could lead to inner peace and a sense of shalom along with Tikkun Olam as others follw suit!

Steve Dobson said...

As I read this I couldn’t help thinking about similar experiences I’ve had. Funnily enough the stories with negative outcomes seem to be the ones that get talked about to friends and neighbors rather than the positive ones. I wonder what it is in human nature that is so attracted to the negative? I don’t think we can accuse the Fly Fishing Rabbi of procrastination. Who knows better the value of patience than a fisherman?


Jack's Shack said...

Patience- It is something that I seem to be lacking. I used to have more of it. I suspect that modern technology has helped to rob me of it.

Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer said...

Steve, I surely agree that fishing tests our patience, which is always a good thing.

Thanks everyone for your great comments!

Offgrid said...

Very good post - I have a dent in my fender that I'm trying to have repaired. In my case I was the offender - I tried to squeeze past a car in a parking lot and scraped their bumper - I left my name, phone # and Insurance information with the Parking lot attendant. The other car's bumper was barely scratched but the dent in my fender is about 12" long. The (Insurance) Body shop estimates cost at $1,000, but it looks like I could pull it out by hand - there is no paint damage - so I think I'll get a 2nd quote. Regardless - I think patience will get me a better result. I'll keep you posted.

Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer said...

Dear Offgrid,

I am glad to hear that you left your info for the other car. Best of luck with your dent. It is incredible how much these repairs can cost.