A few months ago someone crashed into the front bumper of my parked car. My car was situated perfectly between the lines of the parking space. (In other words, I was not culpable and I was not “asking for it.”)
Much to my surprise, the woman who caused the damage made the effort to find me. She accepted responsibility for the accident and called her insurance company immediately. Much to my greater surprise, her insurance company agreed to pay for the repair and sent me a check almost immediately.
The check lay on my desk for weeks as I continued to drive the damaged car. It still drove perfectly and didn’t look that damaged. I was in no rush to get the car fixed because that would mean I would be without the car for a few days.
When I finally did schedule the appointment with the body shop, I presented the insurance check to my husband for his endorsement. Looking up from his Blackberry for a moment, he looked at the check and asked, “Why don’t we just keep the money?”
He said this like it was the mandate of common sense.
We owned the car. We had sustained a loss. We had been compensated for the loss. We would be in our rights to do whatever we wanted with the money.
Furthermore, there really was nothing fundamentally wrong with the car. It didn’t look perfect but it was still a basically beautiful vehicle. And who was I to insist that it look perfect on the outside when, at any given moment, the inside would be encrusted with a paste of cheez-its and gummy worm smegma?
Considering all of this, I acknowledged that there were any number of better uses for the money. We could save it, donate it to charity, or use it to purchase a decent handbag and real leather shoes…
But I wanted to fix the car. Putting the money to any other use just seemed wrong.
But why? Why did I feel so compelled to get the car fixed?
It wasn’t just because, as a NJ resident, I have a familial attachment to my car. (And I do. Only for family would I ever invest the time necessary to learn to park properly.)
It wasn’t because I felt an obligation to the insurance company, either. Their payment to us was not contingent on our promise to fix the car. (While I almost failed Contracts in law school, I did learn that the point of monetizing damages was to dodge the trouble associated with demanding specific performance.)
Nope. I think it has to do with something a little more subtle.
As a former prosecutor and as someone who occasionally watches the news, I have spent a lot of time lamenting how so many problems can never be addressed adequately. Often when somebody has been badly hurt, there is no way to make that person whole. There is no way to restore them to the place they were before the incident happened.
But when the body belongs to an auto, and it’s only the bumper at stake, that just isn’t the case. This repair was possible, even if it wasn’t necessary. So of course I was compelled to get the car fixed. One doesn’t get too many opportunities to make things right. It would be wrong to pass up such a chance.
So friends, that’s what hit me this morning, when I picked up my gleaming, “good as new,” beloved car today at the auto body shop. I am happy to report that nothing else did.