Head Coach: Thoughtfulness can heal a moment
I was reminded of that a few weeks ago while standing at the entrance to the Hatteras Lighthouse on the outer banks of Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
My wife and I were on another one of our famous road trips. Go where the wind takes us. No particular destination. Just a direction. No reservations. We just find an inn when we get tired.
This time, we headed up the lower East Coast hunting lighthouses. We did have one intention. Since childhood, I have wanted to see, touch and climb the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. My sights were set on that adventure.
We usually take these trips later in the year, but the Hatteras Lighthouse closes for the season on Columbus Day. After that, you can visit the place, but you can't climb the lighthouse.
I was determined to climb it, so we left home early enough to reach Hatteras before Columbus Day. Six days and 1,500 miles later, we turned off of North Carolina Highway 12 and into the entrance of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. We had plenty of time before the season ended.
Who could have known that on that same day, the government would shut down? Hatteras is a national monument. The gate was closed. Not just the lighthouse, but the entire park was closed. My heart sank. I pulled the car to the side of the road and stared at the gate. Just over the trees, about a mile away, I could see the tip of my childhood dream.
We had come too far to just drive away. I didn't care if the government was closed. I came 1,500 miles to see the lighthouse, and if I can't drive the last mile, then I'll walk it.
My wife said, "I'm game. Let's do it!"
We breached the gate and hiked to the lighthouse. The Hatteras Lighthouse is everything I imagined. Standing at the base of this magnificent structure built in the 1800s, I pressed my hand against its bricks and gazed up the 198 feet of maritime history. With a sigh, I thought to myself, "Well, I've seen it. I've touched it. I guess I'll have to climb its 268 steps another time."
It was a quiet walk back to the car. I was soulful - awed, but still a bit disappointed.
"Oh, oh, we're in trouble," my wife said as we neared our car.
A ranger vehicle was parked next to the car. The lights were flashing. The ranger opened his tablet and reached for a pen as he pointed out that I had managed to park our car between two signs that read, "No parking between signs." I looked about and noticed we were the only ones there.
Not another vehicle in sight. And he was worried about where I parked? He didn't seem to mind that my wife and I had just breached national security and stole a peek at a national monument during a government shutdown. But we parked between the signs.
I just traveled 1,500 miles and walked 2 additional miles only to be denied the pentacle of a childhood dream, and he is ticketing me because a lone car is parked between two signs. I bristled.
My wife stepped in and spoke to the ranger, "I just need to tell you something."
Then he bristled.
"I just have to say how sorry I am that you have to be in middle of this mess. The government is shut down. People are upset that parks are closed. And you have to deal with it when it has nothing to do with you."
The ranger's shoulders relaxed. His face softened.
"Well, thank you, ma'am. It has been a difficult day," he said as he closed his tablet.
I took that as a sign to shut up. They chatted for some time. He wished us well on the rest of our journey and cautioned me to watch where I parked.
There is power in a compassionate attitude and soft-spoken words. Sometimes, we just need to get out of our own head and look at the bigger picture. A kind and thoughtful word can change a moment.
Instead of being upset about how disappointing my day is, why not think about how to comfort the other guy? That gesture can heal the tension and turn potential enemies into friends.
I still have a lighthouse to climb. And some day, I will. I plan to take my wife just in case the government shuts down, or I park between the signs.
Lane Johnson is a licensed counselor. He welcomes your comments. You can contact him by email at lane@-StrategicConne-ctionGroup.com.