I pulled into the car wash, waiting for the flashing red light to announce when I’d arrived at the appropriate spot to put the car in neutral. My windshield filled with squiggly lines of soap turning the glass before me into a colorful abstract painting. I closed my eyes and relaxed while the brushes whipped and turned, working their magic to make my car shiny and new.
When finished, I pulled out of the car wash and turned on the wipers to clear the front window of the remaining water. That’s when I discovered my wipers had disappeared.
I sat staring at the black stubs rocking back and forth at the bottom of the windshield, trying to figure out what happened.
Parking the car by the front office door, I went inside to find a manager. Turns out, the owner was sitting at his desk.
Your car wash stole my windshield wipers, I told him, feeling a little annoyed and impatient.
He smiled and said hello, then stood up and walked around his desk. “My name is Carl,” he announced, “let’s go out and have a look at your car.”
Standing by the front bumper, I watched as Carl inspected my windshield.
“Did you have your automatic wipers on?” he asked in a calm, friendly manner.
No, I replied, it’s not raining out.
Carl explained that sometimes people enter the car wash with their wipers set on automatic and, as soon as the strong spray hits the windshield, the wipers come on and the brushes pull them off.
“That’s why we have the big sign over the entrance door telling you to make sure they’re turned off.”
Sign? I didn’t see any sign, I told him, bracing for a challenge.
Expecting a fight.
Anxious to get to my next appointment.
I didn’t have my wipers set on automatic, I explained, determined to stand my ground. There must be something wrong with your car wash. Now I have to buy new wipers.
Carl remained calm, even kind. “Let’s go into my office and have a look at the video of your vehicle in the tunnel,” he suggested. “That might tell us what happened.”
Video in the tunnel?
I suddenly felt like a jerk.
Sure enough, as I stood next to Carl watching my car go through the wash, I saw the wipers come on as soon as the forceful spray hit the glass. Then I watched the brushes rip them off.
I’m sorry, I said to Carl, feeling embarrassed and irritated with myself. I shouldn’t have assumed it was your fault.
“No worries,” Carl replied, nice as could be. “Let me see if I can find the wipers. We might be able to salvage them for you.”
A few minutes later, Carl appeared, wipers in hand, big smile on his face. He snapped them back into place.
“No harm no foul,” he announced.
I thanked him for being so gracious and helpful and drove out of the lot painfully aware of how Carl’s mature behavior magnified my own primitive reaction. Clearly something in me got triggered and I had a little exploring and healing to do.
This experience happened a month ago and it’s stayed with me. At my retreats and workshops I talk about how most of us go through life looking like adults but behaving like children when our buttons get pushed (which happens more than you might realize).
Ever have a fight with your partner only to turn into bratty kids yelling and screaming at each other?
Or get your buttons pushed by someone at work and overreact to the point of escalating a simple disagreement?
That’s what happens when eight-year-olds enter the adult playground called life .
Learning to grow ourselves back up when we get triggered is the key to healing both as individuals, and as a society.
I’m grateful to Carl. His ability to behave like a sensible adult in the face of my defensiveness helped me to see myself objectively and you can bet I’ll behave differently the next time I find myself in a similar situation.
While I love all parts of me, young and old, the adult does a much better job at handling my life than the thirteen-year-old .
P.S. – You can order Waking Up in Winter: In Search of What Really Matters at Midlife here.
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