“Parking Lot Aikido” by Marguerite Del Giudice

I pulled into my busy suburban neighborhood Wawa during morning rush hour. It was one of those parking lots where you die a thousand deaths just trying to get in and out without a fender bender, and this day I was in a particular hurry to make it back home in time to get my boys to school.

As I exited the store in record time, a half-gallon of milk dangling from my finger, I realized that the lot was at a standstill. Cars were trying to get in, cars were trying to get out, nothing was happening: It was Wawa gridlock.

The culprit was a sporty black Nissan with tinted windows that had been left, locked and running, pretty much in the middle of things. Half a dozen of us were sitting in our cars, fuming and incredulous.

Just as I headed for the store in search of this dope, he emerged–clean-cut, well-dressed and in his 20s, with a steaming extra-large cup of Wawa coffee in his hand.

“Is this your car?”

He nodded, fumbling for his car remote under the glare of a dozen eyes. He realized what he had done, and all he wanted to do now was get out of Dodge.

“And you left it here, running?” I said with stupefied exasperation.

He wouldn’t make eye contact, which further infuriated me, and just slid behind the wheel of his sports car. He was in my sights now, young, narcissistic, disrespectful. As he shut the door, I uttered the most expressive thing I could think of at the time:

“You jerk!”

Just then, I saw it. It was very subtle, but it was there. He glanced up, looking ashamed and vulnerable, and nodded. I had called him a jerk, and he had taken it.

Immediately, I felt bad, for that sheepish face had reminded me of all the similar small transgressions I’d been guilty of in my own life.

In the moments it took us all to extricate ourselves from the parking lot, I tried to get the young man’s attention, but he wouldn’t look. We pulled out into parallel lanes of traffic, and I waved to him through his tinted windows; nothing. Finally, as we stopped side-by-side at a red light, I tapped my horn and motioned for him to roll down his window.

He did, a brave look on his face, as if bracing for the strap.

“Look,” I said. “I was really mad when you left your car there like that.” His words tumbled out: how sorry he was, he never did things like that, he was in such a rush. He was beside himself with remorse.

“Never mind,” I said. “Regardless of what you did, I should never have spoken to you that way, and I should never have called you a name.”

He stopped cold, stunned at the reversal, and finally looked me in the eyes. Instantly, we both grinned, relieved and reconciled; we had simultaneously forgiven each other.

I can’t tell you how good that felt–and how good it feels every single time I think about it.

In that instant when he didn’t take my bait and instead silently took the blame, he changed me. In that instant when he received my attack, my irritation, anger and incipient self-righteousness gave way to a powerful humility.

He had taken the fight right out of me.

The circumstances may have been banal, but the interaction was downright profound, and to this day, nearly 12 years into my training, it stands as my most memorable aikido moment off the mat.

Note: A version of this article first appeared in 2005 in The Philadelphia Inquirer.


  1. Bruce Baker says:

    There are thousands of incidents in everyday life where someone decides they don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else, for whatever reason their mind makes that decision. How much anger that decision evokes from people who are affected by that action is often just angry words, but should it be more?

    One must ask oneself, what is the appropriate action to respond to these inappropriate actions on the part of others, or even on the part of ourselves as we sometimes transgress skirting around what is considered either good manners, proper behavior, or simply laws enacted by society
    because people have caused trouble causing said laws to be enacted?

    This case of doing the wrong thing then slinking away … well … someone did not look around when they did the wrong thing considering what their selfish act would do to affect the lives of others. Oh let’s just do what is good for me and forget about everybody else, until five or six people are about to beat the crap out of me, then slink away!! Some needs to say or do something!

    Well, just like the driver who pulls into the local store, parking willy-nilly then finds they have held up five other people these situations happen all the time, and even though the point of the story is that after a harsh word the woman was apologetic, sometimes …. the harsh word is really the correct action to accent the wrong so the offender thinks twice before doing it again. HOW you use the words, WHEN you use the words, and what you do when a response is seen from the offender when you say the words is no different than transitioning to multiple attackers in randori.

    Sometimes WE are the offender, sometimes we are the offended. That is the rub. We are so imperfect that sometimes it is difficult to see ourselves in the actions of others.

    I can’t agree that ganging up verbally on the offender of this incident was wrong. How can someone learn if they don’t get feedback their actions are wrong? Society teaches us that we need to be instructed as well as learn from our mistakes.

  2. Marguerite Del Giudice says:

    I apprreciate your comment, Bruce, and can understand where you’re coming from, as I’m obviously not shy about letting someone know if they’ve inconvenienced me (though calling someone a jerk was not one of my more shining moments). But the point of the story was not, as you say, that “after a harsh word the woman was apologetic” and that one should not chastise those who overstep their bounds without regard for others. The point was how I was changed by the young man’s quiet acceptance of my scolding. I was experiencing what I consider to be one of the more magical, and highest, aspects of aikido–the capacity to change and be changed in an instant by an act of harmony (rather than escalation) and how that young man’s humility had taken the fight out of me.

  3. Hi Marguerite,

    I’ve experienced that same kind of transcendance myself…once….long before beginning aikido practise. A short, single moment of instant understanding between two (seemingly different) individuals. A mutual understanding, complete clarity, and an overwhelming sense of joy. The memory stays forever…. Thanks for the story.



  4. Marguerite Del Giudice says:

    You’re welcome, Russ. Ain’t it grand?

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