Well… if finally happened. The first dent in the new Subaru… and I did it. After a cool, beautiful day hiking in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park, it happened… and it made me think. But before I go there… let me set the stage.
On my day off… the day before my wife, Sara’s birthday, we wanted to get some mountain air and have a nice enjoyable day hiking in the mountains, so we decided to go to the Wild Basin area. When we arrived at the entrance, the Park Ranger told us that a child had been lost in the falls area and there were many people involved in the search and rescue, so be aware. He also warned us that there was probably no parking, so off we went and everything he had said was true… no parking, a lot of forest service vehicles and people, and an atmosphere of concern everywhere.
We finally found a place to park, got our backpacks on and then headed off in the direction we thought we needed to go to get to the trailhead. After enjoying a couple of miles of hiking and scenery, we realized that we had gone the opposite direction so we turned around and headed back. It was pretty unsettling that during our hike, we saw many Forest Service trucks and a Dive Rescue team go by. We got back to the car and were still wondering what happened to the child… an interesting feeling hung in the air. We had some lunch and then decided to head down the mountain.
As I was backing out of the small space, I was thinking about the nice hike, the beautiful mountains and how much I enjoyed being with Sara… then I thought that I better look at the backup display… but it would beep if I got close to anything… and then CRASH… abrupt stop… OH NO! (Actually, if I’m honest, I thought something else!) Looking at Sara… “I’ll go look… please don’t get out”… Slowly opening the door… sloooowly walking to the back of the car… there’s the big humungous tree trunk… and then… an even bigger dent with pine sap all over it. Then the guilt, condemnation, second guessing, disappointment… you know the feeling… the sinking feeling in your gut when you’ve done something that was “less than smart!” Slow trod back to the driver’s seat… I didn’t have to say much to Sara… my face said it all.
So here’s where the thinking comes in…
I realized that at a point like this, Sara had a choice to make and so did I. Towards the guilty party, me, the choices were:
- Anger and condemnation at the person for not thinking it through
- Grace and care as they self-condemned and were laden with guilt
Thinking through it, it seems that the choices made are sometimes a reflection of how big a deal is made out of the transgression. The bigger the problem seems… the more likely that the response is anger and condemnation. Even deeper, it also seems that how big of a deal it seems is affected by how big a view is taken. You see… to me that dent looked awfully big while I was standing on that dirt road with the big humongous tree trunk right there. Sara loves her car and there had been no dents before… this was the first one… so it was a big deal! But to my relief, Sara chose grace and care for me. She helped me see the bigger picture and put it into perspective. Compared to a lost child, a dent in a bumper was minor… not incidental… but minor in the big scheme of things.
Often we are faced with these situations as spouses, family members and parents… But the real question is… how often do we overreact and respond in anger and condemnation… even when the guilty party’s face shows deep self-condemnation and sorrow?
What I learned in this very personally challenging situation was that I needed someone to help me put it into and keep it in perspective. I was already convicted of my stupidity… I needed someone to help me be realistic about the size and consequences of the dent and to not let allow me to make it about my self-worth and value. It needed to be a learning opportunity.
As spouses and parents, we need to see ourselves in that role. When, not if, our spouse or child messes up… there are always consequences… but your reaction can affect their self-worth and their perspective.
Step back and put things in perspective. You too will learn a lot.