Brontë at Burger King


“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Something happened this December that marked a major meltdown and milestone for me.

One day I promised my oldest daughter a milkshake. So after an afternoon of chaos I drove to Burger King to deliver the goods.

The line was long. Someone beeped, orders took forever to fill, and my youngest was in the backseat losing her cool. Fifteen minutes later I pulled up to the window to pay and collect. The order was wrong.

Let me rewind and explain that I had been tested all day. Do you ever have those unusually long days full of endless challenges? I had an adult tantrum. I rolled my eyes, gave an exaggerated sigh, and collapsed into the steering wheel. It was dramatic. And as I lifted my head I saw the young woman at the register staring at me. She painfully retreated to fix the order as I sat there unraveling.

It was awkward.

Driving away I knew she felt my behavior was a direct attack. I felt awful. It wasn’t even about the milkshake. The entire day had been a series of unfortunate events and I was exhausted. As I pulled into my driveway guilt consumed me.

I don’t treat people terribly and I don’t behave rudely either. I knew it was a mishap, for which I felt badly about, and I think a lot of people would chalk up the guilt as a reminder to be kinder, more patient, and rooted in gratitude. I let those three things sink in, but it still didn’t feel quite right.

My lessons benefited me, but what about the young woman? I needed to say sorry. I wrote a note, put a little something extra in an envelope, and drove back to Burger King.

On the way there I kept thinking of Charlotte Brontë and her classic Jane Eyre. See the quote above. Independent will often works in our favor. We do what we want when we want. But what about independent will when we’re wrong?

On a cold December night guilt wasn’t enough to school me. As I reintroduced myself, apologized for my behavior, and offered a token of peace, I felt like I had struck gold. Being wrong never felt so right. I recognized that independent will and the strength to recognize, rectify, and recover from mistakes is the ultimate marker of growth.

I drove away incredibly touched by her acceptance and inspired by the will to want to right more wrongs.

I don’t have a ton of baggage. In fact, I’m blessed to have less than most. But I do have some things to adjust or fix and I see the power of willingly walking into the uncomfortable for a more accurate and accountable polished product.

There’s an underlying lesson in it for me, which is acknowleding the undeniable surprises life provides. I never expected to relate Brontë to Burger King.

Here’s to indepedent will and living without nets.