It was my brother’s birthday cake, and the entire loaf took a nosedive from my wife’s lap onto the passenger side floorboard of our car. It landed without hesitation in one proud “splat”. My wife turned to me with that, “OH, SHIT” face and two hands smeared with would-have-been sugary bliss.
A few minutes earlier, she couldn’t find her phone in her purse, so we stopped in a neighborhood nearby to search the car. Now, there’s one thing you need to know about my wife to more fully paint the picture of my frustration: she is a professional at losing anything that has value. Her phone, her keys, her wallet, her purse—she is a mastermind misplacer. And that night I was already exhausted. Having to pull over because she lost her phone was the last thing I had the patience for. Tensions mounted as we realized her phone wasn’t in the car. She went to sit back down in her seat and decorated our car with cake.
There are varying levels of anger. Most people think the louder you are, the angrier you are. And that’s true to a point, but when you get so angry so fast that you can’t even feel it all at once, you stop thinking and say nothing. It’s a fragile state where even the softest sound could set you off. And as I was cleaning up the cake, I was completely. And utterly. Silent.
I put it all back on the tray and started walking to find a street-side gutter to chuck it into. And with every step, my anger brewed. The extra cleaning, the wasted time, the mounds of inconvenience. I walked almost a quarter mile of gutter-less street before I gave up and marched back—uphill and seething. As the lights of my car got closer and closer, I realized I was going to have to confront her about this. And at this rate, it was headed nowhere good.
I was twenty steps out. The NERVE she has to be mad at me.
Fifteen steps out. SHE lost her phone. SHE dropped the cake.
I was ten steps out now. But I don’t want this to blow up into an all-out argument. In a fleeting moment of clarity, I realized that I couldn’t un-drop the cake. It was done. But I could do something about how I was going to react now. And I realized that a couple months down the road, this could be one of those moments we would look back on and laugh at.
With five steps left, I had a choice. I could snap at her OR, I could let my anger and my pride go, forgive her instead of blame her, and have a good laugh about it.
I think in many of those moments, we chose to hold onto our anger; we choose to fixate on the hurt. We think that their pain will justify ours, and somehow two wounds will make us healed. It’s easier in that moment to want them to hurt back, to satisfy your anger. But “getting even” and hurting them doesn’t heal you. It just makes you both wounded. You have another option though. You can forgive them, let them go without hurting them, and in turn, let yourself heal too. You can’t change the fact they hurt you—it already happened. It’s done. But you too have the choice of what you’re going to do now.
As for me and my wife, we chose to laugh. Hard. Happy birthday to the ground.