On being ... a moral dilemma

By Ingrid Sapona

I don’t end up in situations that make me think a lot about my moral obligation to strangers. But, a relatively minor incident on Christmas Eve has had me thinking about it.

December 24th happens to be my father’s names day, which is a big thing to Greek Orthodox folks. So, at about 3:30 that afternoon my mother, sister and I headed to the cemetery to put a wreath on my father’s grave. The cemetery closes at sundown and we were determined to get there before the gates closed.

It was a dry day and the late afternoon sun was lovely and bright. As I was driving up a fairly busy side street, I suddenly saw a flash of sunlight reflected off of something in mid-air about 30 feet ahead of me. I was coming up to an underpass and my first thought was that maybe a large icicle had fallen from it, reflecting the sun as it fell. I quickly ruled that out, however, because it was far too warm for icicles. No one else in the car saw anything.

As I continued forward, I realized I was just about to pass a car parked on the street. It then occurred to me that the flash of light could have been the sun reflecting off a mirror flying through the air. Sure enough, as I passed it, I noticed the side view mirror on driver’s side of the parked car was dangling down and bits of a mirror were on the ground. That’s when I noticed a car that was about 40 feet ahead of me going in the same direction I was. I told my sister what I thought I had seen and I asked her to jot down the plate number of the car driving ahead of me.

I managed to pull up next to the car at a red light and I noticed the side view mirror on the passenger side was broken off and dangling. I also noticed that the car had a handicapped parking tag. While at the light, I did not catch the driver’s attention and I did not attempt to talk to her. When the light turned, she continued along and I turned in the direction toward the cemetery.

I immediately felt burdened with the question of what to do, given what I thought had happened. I decided to continue on to the cemetery because it meant a lot to us to get there before it closed. I also figured going straight there would give me more time to think.

The facts were straightforward: I did not actually see the car in front of me sheer off the mirror of the parked car. All I saw was some sort of glimmer and then I noticed that a parked car’s mirror was busted and that the corresponding side view mirror on the car in front of me also was broke. Perhaps these facts were all unrelated.

But, all the way to the cemetery, I kept thinking about how I’d feel if I came out and found my car’s mirror broken and I didn’t know who did it. Not a very nice Christmas present. (I know from experience that side view mirrors aren’t cheap -- they run anywhere from $350-$500!) I know I’d appreciate it if someone who might know how it happened spoke up.

But I also tried to put myself in the position of the driver of the car I think might have been responsible. When I noticed the handicapped tag I wondered whether the driver might be a senior who didn’t hear, feel, or notice anything unusual. If she was a senior, I worried about whether reporting the incident might cause complications for her vis-à-vis family and/or the police questioning whether she should still be driving if she is so unaware. Did I want to feel responsible for pushing that issue -- especially over something like a side view mirror? That wouldn’t exactly be a nice Christmas present either. I have to say, however, that when I saw her from the side, she did not look old enough to be a senior.

I realized I could have tried to speak with her at the red light. But, frankly, I didn’t relish a confrontation. And I thought about leaving a note on the parked car, saying I thought I witnessed someone sideswipe the mirror and leaving my name, number and the licence plate of the car I thought might be responsible -- but what if I was wrong about it?

On the way home from the cemetery I stopped at the local police station and gave them the licence plate of the car I thought might have sideswiped the parked car, as well as the exact location of it. The police officer was very nice and said I did the right thing. He took my name and number and said that if someone reports a damaged side view mirror on a parked car, they’d at least have “a head start”.

I don’t know what, if anything, happened after that. I thought the police might send a patrol car to have a look and maybe inquire at the house where the car was parked, but I don’t know if they did. Maybe they too just thought it best not to get involved unless someone complains.

It’s been interesting asking friends what they would have done. I’ve been surprised by the number of folks who say they probably wouldn’t have done anything. I don’t think there’s one right answer, which is why I struggled with whether to do anything in the first place. I just did what felt right to me.

What would you have done?

© 2012 Ingrid Sapona


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