I watched her shovel the snow in fits and starts with a 3-year-old boy trailing behind, and I felt sorry for her. She was at home during most days with the little one, while her husband, I presumed, was out at work. I never saw him shovel. Rarely did I see him at all, to be honest.
I spent most of the morning laying out salt, waiting, then clearing our modest driveway and sidewalk. The snowfall took little pauses here and there, but it never completely stopped. We saw three feet come down in no time at all.
“Wanna finish mine?” she called out from across the street.
I smiled, neighbor-like.
“Maybe your beau could stop on the way home and pick up some salt. It really helps to break up the ice.”
“Oh, he’s inside. Works from home. Don’t have to leave for work when you work on a laptop.”
What a jerk, I though, sitting inside at his computer while his wife is trying to clear off a sky-load of snow while simultaneously calming an irritated child.
“Well, I can pick you up some salt if I’m out by the hardware store,” I offered.
“Only if convenient,” she said politely.
She carried on for a few more minutes, digging out a single path from the front door to the buried car. By then, her son was in full tantrum-mode, so she picked him up and went inside.
Once I cleared an escape route for our car, my husband and I set off to the store to pick up a few snowed-in essentials. I couldn’t let go of this situation. I was so angry at her work-at-home husband. I though he was negligent, and mean. I started to concoct this story about their imbalanced, destined-to-fail relationship. I was on a roll, and I didn’t let go of it for the entire drive.
“You should curse him,” my husband joked.
“I just want to shame him,” I said.
When we returned home, I picked up our well-used, metal shovel and walked across the street. The sun had set by then, but the radiant light from a mini-mountain range of lawns and cars roofs provided plenty enough light to see.
I’d decided — not out of neighborly kindness, but out of spite — to do this man’s work. Compassion was not my motivation; I was fueled by a passive-aggressive vengeance. I wanted to stick it to him. And it wasn’t without justification, I believed. There were many, horrible things that could have befallen this family had the snow been left on the ground.
What if their son had broken his leg? What if he had an allergic reaction to some new food? How did they plan to get to the hospital when their car was completely blocked in? Had he even thought of that? What kind of father was this man?! His negligence was going to lead to other people’s injury. I was certain of it.
My internal rant continued until the driveway and sidewalk were clear. My forehead was drenched with sweat, and my wool sweater completely soaked through. I was a mess, but it was worth it.
I shoveled the snow leading up to their porch, and as I reached the last step I heard the door open. I looked up, and there she stood, baby on her hip.
Pride. Self-satisfaction. This was my moment.
“Did you do the sidewalk?” she asked, surprised.
“And the driveway,” I said, trying to sound somewhat matter-of-fact about it. “You never know when you’re going to need to get your car out. There could be an emergency, or something.”
She pointed inside. “He’s going to have a liquor store emergency pretty soon.” She smirked.
Well that wasn’t at all what I was thinking about. I tried to brush it off.
Then, she said the words that threw everything into a tailspin.
“I was just going to wait for a high-functioning Mexican to come by tomorrow and do it. That’s what usually happens.”
A high-functioning Mexican? A…high…functioning…Mexican?
My mind went blank. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. I was speechless.
I stood in the cold; shocked and sweaty. She offered to bake me muffins for my trouble, and I muttered that she didn’t have to do that. I couldn’t stomach the thought. Then, she said a polite “goodbye” and went inside.
She wasn’t helpless; that was just “gender stereotyping” on my part. And he wasn’t a tyrant. They were just a young, married couple with a driveway full of white privilege, and they were waiting for someone else to come take care of it for them.
Turns out, that someone else was me.
I felt stupid, and ashamed of myself. I’d done all of this to prove a point, but it was me who was given a lesson.
Act without compassion, and you will experience an absence of compassion. Seek to shame another, and you will experience shame. Place another man’s negligence on trial, and you will come to see how you, yourself, have been negligent.
Can you see any other lessons in this experience?