For the last 12 years, my family has taken a trip during the holidays. We’ve traveled to Vegas, Hawaii, both Disney Parks, and Mexico. And, one particularly lean December we celebrated “Christmas by the Bay”, which turned out to be one of my favorite years.
In the beginning, our group consisted of my parents, my siblings and spouses, and my sons. But in recent years, the group has varied depending on who is around and able.
This year it was the two older generations. We decided to stay closer to home and drive to Vegas.
One thing I’ve noticed about these trips is that while we always have a great time, there is also at least one “incident”. That is, a moment of tension, frustration, or hurt feelings resulting from a misunderstanding, comment, or action.
These incidents always blow over like passing thunder storms and don’t last long, but they happen just the same. This year, there was a storm with my name on it.
It happened about three hours into the trip when I took my turn as Driver 2 of the Toyota Sequoia we had rented. Shortly after taking the wheel, I noticed the SUV didn’t feel right: like it was in the wrong gear.
The console was fancier than my ’97 Nissan Altima’s, so as I peered down to view it more closely, the SUV veered onto the shoulder, giving that off-road experience of spewing gravel and bumpy terrain.
Before I could apologize, a cacophony of, “What are you doing, Tammy? What’s the problem?!” type comments torpedoed my way.
“Something’s not right!” I defended. “I’m trying to figure out what gear I’m in. There’s an S and D in the same slot, but the engine is working too hard.”
“It was working fine before,” Driver 1 said, while the front seat passenger yanked the car manual from the glove box.
Testiness was definitely in the air.
I moved the gear from the existing slot to the adjacent one, and instantly the SUV revved down to normal.
“The manual says you can drive in S or D,” I was told.
“Well before, the RPM gauge was up to 3 and 4, and now it’s back down to 2,” I snapped. “This feels right.”
No response. In fact, the entire vehicle was deathly silent, like no one was even breathing.
Then came, “I hope you’re not going keep this attitude for the rest of the trip,” the front seat passenger retorted.
“I didn’t have an attitude,” I said, “but I do now. I haven’t had an accident in more than 20 years.”
“That doesn’t mean you couldn’t have one today,” was the comeback.
More silence – the cricket chirping variety.
My throat was tight, my eyes were burning, and even the crickets retreated.
After what felt like many minutes, a small quiet voice next to me said, “Well, I’m sorry…
Another, “I’m sorry, too,” came from the back.
“Accepted,” I mumbled. The storm was over. But at least for me, there was the aftermath of emotional clean-up.
Conversation resumed and the sun came out, so to speak. But my part in the conversation was water-logged, at best.
I remember thinking I could either handle my feelings and get on with the vacation, or keep picking at the storm debris. Picking a little longer, it occurred to me that everyone’s reaction, including my own, was really a reaction to something deeper.
This brought to mind a sermon my dad had preached once on anger. He had explained that anger is typically triggered by one of three things – hurt, frustration or fear/insecurity. Understanding which of the three has been triggered -- in us and in the other person -- can go a long way toward restoring strained relationships.
In an instant I saw it all clearly, like the clouds had suddenly moved aside to reveal a rainbow.
The truth was, I had scared the whatnots out of my family, and what they had really sent my way was fear.
And my heels-dug-in response was really embarrassment that I had driven off the road and, humiliation at being yelled out in chorus, both of which relate to insecurity. And, then further injury by that “attitude” comment.
The apologies helped me to let go of my defensiveness and reconnect in love, but it was in understanding their responses and my own, that allowed me to truly put this incident behind me and readily embrace the warmth of our family time. In fact, the rest of the drive turned out to be a bright, bright sunshiny day!
He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. (Proverbs 17:27)