At the intersection of Lowel and Whittier (Syracuse streets named after authors), the driver in the SUV slowed, stopped, and began a U-turn. (A woman in her fifties, she was -- to recall more accurately -- driving a CRV, one of those so-called crossovers, and for all I know it was literally a Honda CRV.) She completed three-quarters of the U-turn. I was at the intersection's stop sign, getting ready to turn left. The only other traffic was a car to my left on Lowell. I slipped through and proceeded to make my left turn. I wasn't in a big hurry, though I was a bit later than I'd planned to be on the way to a pre-Mother's Day "tea and dessert" with Mom, 99, and the seniors at her independent-living facility. I didn't impatiently beep my horn or wave my arms. The driver witnessing all this, on Lowell to my left, who couldn't go anywhere anyway except backwards, sported a beaming smile. In her twenties, hair tied up, she flashed an exuberant, bright-toothed smile of wonder and delight. It said, "Look at you, maybe you are lost. you've decided to correct your 'mistake' and do a 180. How sweet. Isn't life grand!" Or notions along those lines. Her smile was rich, patient, buoyant -- and unmistakably genuine. I was immediately grateful that I had not beeped my horn or waved my arms. I was also relieved I had not given U-Turner the finger or yell to no one in the car, "What's the matter with you? What are you doing? How dare you slow me down? What is this country coming to?" I first thought the two female drivers knew each other or were related. I assumed Smiler's breezy tolerance was several doses of "hey, that's cool, we'll find the place, no hurry, we'll get there, I'm good." But as I drove on, on Lowell, with U-Turner in my rearview mirror, Smiler was nowhere to be seen. Now it appeared that Smiler and U-Turner were strangers to each other, as they were to me. With U-Turner in my rearview, searching Tipp Hill slowly for her destination, I had a revelation. Why is familiarity the pretext for kindness? Why couldn't Smiler be someone who took the world in stride, as it came to her, at its own speed, someone who took the "good" with the "bad" equally, not personally offended or distraught by life's disturbances or challenges? Before you dismiss this view of life as either sappy/sentimental or deranged (and I get that, I really do), think again. (Or feel again. Neuroscientists tell us there is no difference biologically and neurochemically between thinking and feeling.) Aren't we offered many moments in every day with an opportunity to be either the Smiler or the FingererGrowler? I am not suggesting that I (or you) can inhabit a Hallmark, gauzy world of inhuman tolerance, or walk or drive in a hazy, psychotic fugue of benign delight.
Well, maybe I am.
p.s. This episode reminded me of Splashed Woman of Times Square, in the Eighties, who got doused by a cab. It drenched her. I witnessed this, fifty yards away, on my way to work. She laughed.