This story is about forgiveness.
We get our milk from an organic dairy farm. It's delivered to our home in bottles on a truck. On average, we drink one bottle per day.
Recently, my 12-year-old son Clancy dropped an unopened milk bottle on our marble countertop. The bottom shattered and a half-gallon of milk flowed down the face of the counter, into utensil drawers, onto the tile floor and under the stove, taking fragments and splinters of glass with it. You'd be surprised how much surface a half-gallon of milk can cover.
It was a Monday morning and I had been in the basement exercising. I had about 15 minutes before I needed to head off to work. So I was hustling to the shower when I passed through the kitchen and found my son on the verge of tears, standing alone in a pool of milk. Everyone else was upstairs getting ready for school.
This presented a test. You see, my stress level is a little higher than normal these days. I'm facing multiple writing project deadlines, including a big book that is due. My desk is so buried in research that I haven't seen the surface in weeks. Plus, it's the end of the semester and I have a stack of papers to grade and essays to read.
I'll be honest. My capacity for patience isn't optimal.
If I had given in to my natural impulses, I am sure I would have said something regrettable in the heat of the moment. Instead, I said what I have often wished people would say to me when I make a mistake — "Don't worry about it. It's not a big deal."
I can't tell you how good it felt to say that. The anxiety left my son's face and we got down on our knees and began sopping up milk. Next, we picked up large pieces of glass. Then we hand-washed lots of utensils and wiped out drawers. We vacuumed the kitchen to get up the glass slivers. Then we mopped the tile.
The whole process took about 40 minutes. Then we had to clean up ourselves. By the time I got to the office, it was pretty late.
Now, before you get to thinking that I pulled off a piece of good parenting, let me confess why I didn't lose my patience in this situation. It's because of a lesson my son had taught me just two weeks earlier. Here's that story.
We live on a family farm, and the Saturday before Thanksgiving we were moving our mobile chicken coop from one area of the farm to another. That's right — we have a coop on wheels. Basically, the coop is mounted to a steel trailer frame that has a hitch. Picture a boat on a trailer and you'll get the idea.
Every few weeks me move the coop to ensure that the chickens always have fresh grass. So my wife, Lydia, was behind the coop, releasing the hydraulic legs that keep the coop stationary. Clancy was standing on the steel trailer frame at the front end of the coop, guiding me as I inched the pickup truck back toward the hitch. I was within a few inches when I let my foot off the brake pedal and the transmission slipped. The engine revved as the truck raced backward, slamming into Clancy, knocking him against the outer wall of the coop.
Even after I hit him, the truck kept surging backward, driving the coop a good 6 feet from where it stood. My son was pinned between the truck and the coop. All I could see was his terrified expression as I desperately tried to get the truck out of reverse.
I panicked. With the truck still surging back, I frantically fumbled with the shift until I finally found neutral and jumped out of the cab.
Horrified, I ran to my son, who had collapsed on the ground as soon as the truck rolled forward. I was sure I had crushed him. I cried words I never use as I dropped to my knees, scooped him up and begged God that he would be breathing.
When I say begged, I mean begged. His pants were ripped and blood was dribbling down his leg. But he was breathing.
"I'm so sorry," I cried. "I'm so sorry."
In my haste to run to Clancy, I hadn't noticed that the truck had started rolling down the hill and was headed for a tree. Lydia managed to jump in the cab and stop it in the nick of time. When she emerged from the cab, we discovered that she had a large gash on her head. I had hit the coop with such force that the rear corner went into her head when she was raising the legs. If she had been looking up instead of down, the gash would have went right down the middle of her face.
None of this is easy to admit or write. So I'm going to stop here and simply say that Clancy came away from all that with a sore shoulder and two large cuts across the back of his calf. No broken bones. Not even any stitches. A man who was helping us that day witnessed the whole scene and said that it was "a miracle" that Clancy didn't have a crushed chest, if not worse.
Lydia required stitches. Our family doctor ended up running to the pharmacy, purchasing super glue and using it to close her wound.
But the real story here is the way my child treated me. He kept telling me that it wasn't my fault; that it was an accident; that he loved me.
I felt so guilty. I had frightened him. I had hit him. I even wounded my wife. I wanted to punish myself. Yet all I got was instant, unconditional forgiveness.
I wish I were more like a child, especially when it comes to forgiveness.
Jeff Benedict is a special features contributor for Sports Illustrated and the author of 11 books. His website is www.jeffbenedict.com.