Talkin’ About the Car Wash

If you’re familiar with old songs from the 1970s, you’ll know that the post title is a line from a song by Rose Royce—the titular song of the 1976 movie, Car Wash. (Go here if the video is not below. Some YouTube videos I’ve posted have disappeared in other posts.)

When I was a kid, I loved going to the automatic/tunnel car wash. Loved watching the big brushes on the sides of the car and the huge blowers. And just when I thought the car wash was over, other services my father asked for (like wax or an undercarriage wash), would begin. The more time in the car wash the merrier, I always thought!

My younger brother, however, was terrified of the experience. He would cover his eyes and sink low in the backseat. My older brother and I made fun of him, because we were exercising our sibling right to torment him. Yet as I look back on that today, I feel bad for mocking him for something he genuinely feared.

It’s interesting how as kids, our first response to someone else’s fear was often to laugh, especially if the fear is not one to which we can relate. “Fraidy/Scaredy Cat!” “What a baby!” Ever hear those phrases? I’ve said them. It’s what kids do.

There are some fears we grow out of. But others linger longer than childhood.

Awhile ago, someone told me that more people than ever are suffering from anxiety. It is certainly on the rise among teens as this article mentions. Many people have had debilitating panic attacks. But instead of empathy, some have been given advice along the lines of, “You need to get over it.” I wish I could pretend that these words weren’t uttered to someone I know. But they were.

That’s why I think of the car wash and the empathy I withheld from my brother. I didn’t understand the fear, so I didn’t offer support. Even into adulthood, sometimes I thought a push in the form of a platitude was enough to motivate someone whose situation I didn’t really understand. I ignorantly assumed that emotional obstacles could be readily surmounted in a short time span. That is, until I went through a period of grief myself.

Sometimes a kick in the pants is necessary to motivate someone who has the power to move on but procrastinates. But some emotional seasons go beyond a pat answer. Grief, anxiety—neither has a preset limit. Just when you think you’re out of it, like a car moving along a conveyor belt at the car wash, another stage begins. It’s over when it’s over.

So from now on, I’m giving pat advice the brush off. Daily I’m reminded to be quick to hear and slow to speak* when someone shares his or her pain.

Car wash image from Grief image from the Ridge Meadows Hospice Society.

*From James 1:19.

40 thoughts on “Talkin’ About the Car Wash

  1. I think the internet has been a factor. People sees posts about anxiety, but they don’t get the full picture. So they react as if the person is whining for attention or overreacting. This is because you have people who do this so often, which masks those who are really suffering. People take this mentality to the real world.

    That being said, I think it might be better these days. Older generations handled mental health issues by hiding, ignoring, and tough love. Telling someone to get over it was standard bank then. Nowadays we have more acknowledgment of anxiety and depression.

    • Thank you, Jill. 😊 Excellent thought. I am totally guilty of speaking first and listening third. I put listening third because in second place, I’m thinking about something entirely different even while conversing with someone!

  2. Excellent advice. I try to do as you suggest, but do find myself occasionally wondering about the best way to respond to another person’s anxiety, especially when they seem to want help but I’m clueless about what to do for them.

    • Thank you! I know what you mean, Ally. I’m a natural fixer. If something looks “broken,” I rush in to try to fix it. But some situations, I simply can’t fix. I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m also trying to avoid rushing in with advice that no one asked for. I’ve done that too often in the past.

  3. “be quick to hear and slow to speak” – I have needed to be reminded of this in my life, as both a recipient and giver. Sometimes, oftentimes, we all just want to be heard and our pain/agony/concerns/whatever be acknowledged. Thank you for the reminder here, and for your clever weaving of car wash and James. I loved this post!

    • I’m grateful that prayer caused this post to be birthed, Penny. 😊
      We all want to be heard. So many people are crying out. It’s hard to be discerning about who to listen to, particularly when many, many people cry out at the same time on social media.

  4. What a powerful message! I think we’ve all been there, teasing instead of helping, tormenting instead of empathizing. As I’ve grown into an adult, I’ve become more sensitive to others’ anxiety, probably because I’ve had the experience myself. Sometimes, though, we patronize because we feel helpless. We don’t know how to help a person in pain. We want them to “get over it” so we can stop feeling guilty for being unable to ease their pain. I often have to remind my husband that I don’t want him to try and “fix” things, to offer solutions. I just want him to listen and let me get out whatever is bothering me within. With social media as it is, I think there’s fewer people listening and more people just making a lot of noise.

  5. Don’t be too hard on yourself about the car wash incident, LM. Laughing at his fears could be viewed as a form of CBT:

    “CBT focuses on changing how the child thinks about his fear, increasing exposure to feared situations, and relaxation strategies such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and positive self‐talk (repeating positive or reassuring statements to oneself). Exposure therapy, a type of CBT, focuses on increasing exposure to feared objects or activities.”

    Other than that, I concur. Pat answers are a dismissive response to a situation that we don’t really want to deal with ~> they are cookie cutter responses . . . but we are not cookies.

  6. When someone is grieving, I’ve learned to just listen and give hugs. I also ask if there is anything I can do. No one did that for me when I was grieving, and I don’t want anyone else to feel alone.

    As far kids teasing, that’s what kids tend to do. I think as adults, we know better. Or, at least we should.

  7. There was a news item over here recently about a record number of young people suffering from anxiety and/or depression. I guess it’s similar for other countries too.

  8. Children can be unintentionally unkind, but it can be hard even for adults to differentiate between real anxiety and a form of attention seeking, so it’s understandable. Grief does indeed take its own time to pass and every journey seems different. I hope you’ve reached a smooth section of road. 🙂

  9. Love the song. Thanks for the beat and the memory.

    When my daughters were very young, we lived in the Philippines and went swimming often all year long. The oldest (who’s never been afraid of anything) teased “number two” about the line at the bottom of the swimming pool, telling her it was a shark. “Number two” still feels uneasy about the line in the bottom of the pool. But when my brave oldest daughter had children of her own, though her daughter was (and still is) exceedingly brave, her son had (and still has) lots of fears. Fortunately, by the time she had her own children, though, my daughter was mature enough to sympathize with and protect her son.

    • I always love your family stories, Nicki.

      Is it hard, as a parent, to know when to sympathize and when to give your child a necessary push? I remember being very anxious about school when I was in fifth grade. We had so much homework. I kept saying, “I can’t do it all.” But Mom kept telling me she knew that I could do it all. And I did.

  10. A very thoughtful blog. I loved listening to the Car Wash Song. It perked me up from my shadowy mood. Music goes straight to the heart. No wonder the Psalms were originally sung. There is darkness, but as in Keat’s “Nightingale,” an aching heart in “shadows numberless” hears the bird’s song. Writers understand the opportunities darkness brings.

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