They repay me with evil for good, with hatred for my love. (109:5)
Most of the time it feels good to be a good and loving person in this world. Living one’s life according to the middah of hesed (character value of love) means continually looking for ways to radiate acts of love. Most of the time, a smile aimed at a harried cashier or another driver at a four-way stop during rush hour will elicit a smile in return. A kind word to a server or a person you pass walking down the street doesn’t take much effort and will likely result in that person passing along the act of hesed to another person later in the day.
Every once in a while, however, it is more challenging. I had a meeting downtown and was fortunately enough to find street parking right across the street. I had just pulled in to the spot and had not even shut off the car. While arranging my bag and getting change for the meter out of the ashtray, I heard a sharp knock on the window. Standing there was a meter lady, getting ready to write a ticket. I rolled down the window and she barked, “you’re meter’s expired!” I explained, somewhat angrily, that I had just that moment pulled in and hadn’t had a chance to get out of the car yet. She responded, “Well, you’d better put money in the meter right away,” and walked away. I wanted to get out of the car and ask her why she was being so unpleasant! Was she behind on her ticket writing quota? I could have gotten her badge number and reported her for … something! Such an aggressive action, however, would have had no positive outcome. It would have left both of us feeling even more angry, and that anger, carried through the rest of the day, would have infected each of my subsequent interactions.
Pirkei Avot (1:6) teaches, “judge every person on the side of merit.” My initial response to her was angry. What would have happened if I had imagined how hard her job must be and even when she does it 100% properly, people get angry at her. What is it like working under those conditions day after day, week after week, month after month, in the heat, cold, rain, and snow? If it happens again, perhaps I would be able to roll down the window and say, “I appreciate all the hard work you do to make sure people park on the downtown streets fairly. I was just about to get out of my car and put money into the meter. Thank you for reminding me, and enjoy the rest of your day!”