“Light touch. Don’t try to control.”

I am not much of a swimmer. Yet, I have learned an important life-saving lesson: relax and float when in trouble. One is in graver danger when struggling than if one relaxes. Rather counterintuitive.

During my college days I worked part-time as a janitor. One of my jobs was to run an industrial buffer and keep a hallway in top-notch condition. The head janitor explained: “Give it a light touch. Do not fight it. If you do, it will jerk you around”. He demonstrated the task. The buffer glided beautifully to one side of the hallway to the other. “Now, you try” he said. “But, remember: a light touch. Do not try to control it.”

It looked easy enough. I felt a fair bit of anxiety. I wanted to perform well. I reached out for the buffer, squeezed the levers and I was in for one wild ride. The buffer took off, careened from wall to wall and I was dumbstruck. It was a good thing the walls were constructed of concrete blocks! I released the levers and stepped back with disbelief, embarrassment, as well as amazement at the power of the buffer. The head custodian repeated, “Don’t fight it. Give it a light touch”. He demonstrated again and the buffer smoothly glided back and forth across the hallway. It was like watching poetry in motion. Then, it was my turn again.

I grabbed the handle, squeezed the levers, and I was in for another wild ride. I stopped the machine and looked back at the head custodian. “Light touch” and “Try again” were the only words I remember. I did “try again” only to repeat my first two experiences. I obviously had no idea of what a “light touch” meant. The buffer took off like a wild animal and I was certainly not in control. I stopped and looked back at the head custodian. “Keep trying. Light touch. Don’t try to control it”. Having said that, he walked away. I watched him until he rounded the corner before I attempted the “light touch” once more. The result? A careening, out-of-control monster which I had not tamed and of which I was obviously not in control.

Several more attempts with the same results. I stopped in exasperation and not much optimism that I could learn to operate the buffer. I turned and looked down the hallway. There he stood, the head custodian, laughing at me. I know, now, that he was laughing with a sense of recognition learned from his own experience. He winked and walked away.

“Light touch” he had said. I had to try again.

With determination not to control, but to give it a light touch, I reached out and lightly held the handle and touched the levers. The most amazing outcome: the buffer glided across the hallway like poetry in motion. A life-lesson learned. To attempt to control something with that much power was beyond my ability. It took a light touch and the buffer did what it was designed to do. “Do not try to control it. Give it a light touch.” Counterintuitive like floating. But remarkably effective.

I sometimes ‘forgot’ the “light touch” and I was jerked around like a wimp. Moral of the story. Trying to be in control does not work as well as a light touch. I have been jerked around by more than an industrial floor buffer. And, I do not wonder why. “Light touch” works rather well in so many areas of life.