Racy and raring to fly off at the slightest provocation, the car and I had much in common. Perched behind its wheel, I felt certain there was little I had left to learn about life. That’s when Mr. Smith came to manage the branch office where I worked as a customer representative at General Motors Acceptance Corporation in Beaumont, Texas.
Mr. Smith, a quiet man with black-rimmed glasses, had a face that always smiled. He moved in a polished way, smoothly, as if certain he was headed in the right direction. Yet he possessed a charming naivete, blushing freely, cackling at dumb jokes.
One Monday morning, my immediate supervisor, whom I’ll call Mr. Jones, announced a meeting. It was no secret that I disliked Mr. Jones; the feeling was mutual. On more than one occasion, he and I clashed, sending sparks flying like two live wires in a rainstorm. So, not a little irritated, I drifted into the meeting and took a chair. Lunch was a half-hour away, I had a date, and was starving already.
As soon as the meeting began, I sensed something was askew. Mr. Jones began sweating—something he did under duress—and the room reeked of unpleasant odors. I sat inspecting my perfectly groomed nails, trying hard not to breathe.
About midway through the meeting, Mr. Jones became visibly upset, swearing and cursing. After he used God's name a couple of times, I flew out of my chair, announced, "I don't have to listen to that kind of language," and stomped noisily from the room, leaving Mr. Jones and all of my coworkers staring after me in stunned disbelief.
Promptly, Mr. Jones chased after me, ordering me into Mr. Smith's office. Once there, I collapsed into the nearest chair and burst into tears.
With a wave of his hand, Mr. Smith dismissed the flustered Mr. Jones and sat there silently while I attempted to compose myself. For several minutes, I blubbered and sobbed, while trying to excuse my irrational behavior.
Still, Mr. Smith said nothing, reached inside his navy blazer, handed me a crisp, white handkerchief, motioned for me to use it. Then, calmly, he asked, "What happened out there?"
“I don’t know,” I said between sobs. "He started cussing, and I guess I just lost my temper. Sometimes that man makes me so mad.” I was yelling like a spoiled brat.
"Maybe so, Dayle, but he’s your boss. You must show him respect." As always, Mr. Smith was smiling.
Just then, a faint knock sounded at the door. Mr. Jones peeked inside, his face beet red. "When you get through in here," he said, glaring at me, "come back to the meeting; you need to hear this."
And that’s when, unable to stop my silly, impetuous self, I leaped up from my chair and roared, "I am not coming back to your stupid meeting!"
"Dayle," Mr. Smith pleaded futilely in the background, "Please! Sit down!"
But I would not. Fuming, I charged past Mr. Jones, headed straight for my desk, snatched my purse, and plunged out the door trembling, while my coworkers sat like statues, watching this astonishing scene unfold.
"Where are you going?" Mr. Smith, now standing in the center of the room, called after me.
"I don't know!" I yelled, loud enough for the entire tenth floor to hear.
In the elevator, I dabbed at my eyes with Mr. Smith’s wilted handkerchief, wondering what on earth I had just done. How ignorant and undisciplined could I be? I had a good job with a major corporation. Now what did I have? Without question, a tarnished job history and a white Corvette would not escort me far in life. Still—it was too late to do anything about it. For how could I return after such a dramatic exit?
My date was parked at the curb. We rode to a nearby deli where lunch proved disastrous. He kept asking what was wrong; I kept saying, “Nothing,” but I couldn’t complete a sentence without tears. Finally, I spilled the entire story, ending with, “What am I going to do?”
"You’re going to go back and talk to your boss—if you want to keep your job,” my wise friend said.
My stomach in knots, I returned to the building, walked to the lobby phone and punched the number. When Mr. Smith came on the line, I said simply, "This is Dayle."
"Yes, Dayle," he said, cool as a cucumber. "What is it?"
"Mr. Smith,” I began feebly. “I’m really sorry about what happened. Could we—I mean—I was wondering—do you reckon—could I—can we ... talk?"
"Where are you?"
"I’m downstairs in the lobby."
"I’ll be right down."
Minutes later, Mr. Smith emerged from the elevator, strode evenly toward me and—unbelievably—smiled. "Why don't we go for a ride in my car," he suggested, his voice strained. Together, we strolled out of the building into the steamy Texas sunshine, a sense of urgency looming between us. I wondered if he would fire me. He had every right.
It was sweltering in the car. No one spoke. Sitting there like two stones, we ambled out into the street, the air-conditioner pumping hot air. We rode two blocks and stopped next to a low-income apartment complex. Aluminum foil squares clung to the windows like tiny shields against the blistering heat.
Drawing his breath in sharply, Mr. Smith said, "Dayle, I must say, I’m disappointed in you."
Staring dumbly out the window, I felt about an inch high.
"You know I could fire you for insubordination."
"I know," I said, barely above a whisper. "You should."
He sighed long and hard. "Maybe," he said. "But I'm not going to."
Slowly I turned toward him, hoping I’d heard correctly. "You’re … not?”
"No, I’m not," he said flatly. You’re a hard worker, and I like you. I know you’re a good person. I also know you’re young. There’s a lot to learn about getting along with people, and it takes time. That’s why I want to give you a second chance."
A second chance? He was offering me a second chance? My heart leaped. I didn’t know what to say. Yet there was so much I wanted to say.
We sat for another minute or so before he steered the car back onto the street. In awkward silence, we rode to the office parking lot and got out.
"Well," Mr. Smith said, still smiling, "I hope you’ve learned a lesson through all of this, Dayle. Mr. Jones is not a bad person. He’s just trying to do his job. Sometimes we all behave poorly.” He touched my shoulder. "Now, why don't you take the rest of the day off, get some rest, and I’ll see you in the morning."
Dumbfounded, I mumbled my thanks, watched him disappear into the building.
In retrospect, what could have been a devastating event for me—though duly deserved—turned into a wake-up call. My youth had been a breeding ground for self-centeredness, impatience, an unforgiving spirit. But because of Mr. Smith's willingness to look past my immaturity and bad behavior, I learned a most valuable lesson: It is a good thing to show mercy; one never knows when one might need it.
Blessed are the
Matthew 5:7 (KJV)
Taken from the book, Silver Linings, by Dayle Allen Shockley. All rights reserved.
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