How to Become a Hero c.j. hayden
   How to Become a Hero
   You Are the Champion the World Is Waiting For

   C.J. Hayden, MCC

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A funny thing happened on the way to the post office 

A couple of weeks ago, on an ordinary afternoon, my day took an unexpected turn for the worse. Walking home from the post office, I was crossing a narrow residential street near my house. I was in the crosswalk when a small truck ran the stop sign and narrowly missed hitting me. Inches away from the driver with the truck still rolling by me, I yelled at her -- not an obscenity, but something along the lines of, "Hey!" What happened next was even more unexpected.

The driver stepped on the brake and leapt out, leaving her vehicle in the middle of the intersection. "Are you yelling at me?" she barked, and attacked me. She was a big woman, and I was taken completely off guard. She hit me full force with both hands and sent me flying through the air. I landed on the sidewalk, smacking my head against a brick wall.

When she saw my head bleeding, her face changed. "Oh my God," she said, "Did I do that?" She bent down. "Are you OK?... You're not OK, are you... Dammit, I have to take you to the hospital." And she helped me get up.

I wouldn't let her take me to the hospital -- I didn't want to know her that long. But another strange aspect of this already surreal incident was that no one else was around. In the middle of the afternoon in a busy neighborhood shopping district, no other cars or pedestrians came by the whole time. I had left the house with no wallet, no money, and no cell phone. I could tell I needed stitches in my head, but I wasn't critically injured. I couldn't picture walking into the vegetable market covered in blood and asking them to call me an ambulance. So instead I said, "No, but you can take me home."

It of course occurred to me later that getting into her car was perhaps not the smartest thing to do under the circumstances. But in that moment, she seemed to be once again rational, and genuinely concerned for my welfare. She was also mortified by what she had done. Driving the six blocks to my house, she poured out her heart to me. She was having the worst day of her life, she said. Something awful had just happened, and she was both in a rage and in a hurry, headed out of town. She never saw me crossing the street or the stop sign, and when she saw me outside her window yelling at her, she didn't know what had happened. She just snapped, and took out all her pent-up anger on the object in front of her -- me.

I had her let me out at the corner near my home, so she wouldn't know my address. "How will I know you're OK?" she asked. "Can I send you some flowers?" I promised to go straight to the emergency room, and declined the flowers. The last thing she said to me was, "Maybe there is a reason we met."

I'd like to think that there was a reason. Pondering it in the hospital waiting room, I realized that perhaps there was a positive net gain to the universe as a result of what had happened. An hour before, a woman was driving a powerful vehicle too fast through a residential neighborhood in a blind rage. She could have easily killed a pedestrian less alert than me, maybe one of the many schoolchildren who walk down that street at that time of day. Or gotten on the freeway in that state and caused an accident that seriously injured many people.

Instead, I had one bad cut and a few scrapes and bruises. And she was no longer angry, but ashamed of her behavior, driving carefully, and in a state of intense self-examination. I don't think she hurt anyone else that day. And just maybe, this was the catalyst for a lasting change -- perhaps she'll get help with her emotional problems, decide to quit drinking, end the dysfunctional relationship she's in, or otherwise choose a healthier, happier path than the one she is on.

Or maybe none of those things is true, and it was just a senseless incident. But I notice that believing that makes me feel like a helpless victim, while thinking that perhaps it was of some use makes me feel as if I made a contribution. Guess which belief I am choosing?


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