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Life Notes: A Lesson in Perspective
Words of wisdom from an old friend

It coughed. It sputtered. It gasped. And then my 14-year-old car simply quit. Died right on our driveway. Needless to say, this demise could not have come at a worse time.

It was finally springtime. Even the calendar said it. I was rarin’ to go. No time to waste.

And of course, there was the list. The tyranny of the list.

This time, it was as long as my arm, a roster of appointments and errands nipping at my heels.

Hurry up, please, it’s time… The line from T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” came roaring back to me from my English-major days. I felt frantic.

I called our trusty road service company and, of course, I was told help would be on the way…but not for a while. “Just a brief wait,” according to the honey-voiced woman who took my S.O.S. call.

It was my fault. Just two days before, I had said to my husband that this car had been so good to me that I wasn’t giving it up. I was cleaving to it as long as it got me where I was going. Besides that, I was as used to this car as a woman is to a good – or no-good – husband. We were a team.

I’ll admit my thoughts were not nearly as positive when I came back inside the house to start the unraveling process of my day. Hello, 10:30 am interview. Sorry I can’t be there. My car won’t start.

Even to my own ears, it sounded like a feeble alibi. A downright lie. The oldest excuse in the book. Only it was true.

Hello, hair salon. Goodbye, hard-won haircut appointment with the maestro of the scissors. Rescheduling? But of course…three weeks from yesterday.

Hello daughter. Make other arrangements for Zay’s school pick-up. It won’t be Grandma Sally. At least, not likely.

And so it went. The morning was a piercing reminder of our dependence on cars, our absolute submission to their tyranny. I was stuck – or, in more appropriate language, stalled. The brakes were on.

I paced. I fumed. I checked the driveway approximately every 45 seconds for a sighting of my rescuer. I ate four chocolate chip cookies.

Ninety minutes seemed like a life sentence.

I wish I could have been a serene lady-in-waiting, philosophical about life’s little glitches. I wish I could have done something productive or thoughtful or, at the very least, calming. But I’m an incurable Type A, and car troubles, like computer troubles, make me wild with anxiety. My own engine churns.

Then I picked up the phone and called my oldest friend Joycie in Florida. Dear Joycie is always eager to talk.

“What’s wrong?” Joycie asked seconds into our conversation, sensing that my voice was ragged with tension. So I told her my small tale of woe – a busy day, a car that was ailing, an impatient wait for help.

For a blink, Joycie said nothing. No words of reassurance. No purred comfort. No “It’ll be all right.”

“It’s just a car,” my oldest, wisest friend said at last. “Be grateful that it’s just a car.”

Not exactly profound wisdom. No phenomenal trumpet blast of insight. Just the calm, steady voice of reason and perspective from a woman who has lots of both.

But those words also came from a woman who had seen her husband through a monumental illness. They came from a woman who has had her share of life’s “gotchas.”

And suddenly, I was really hearing Joycie. Yes, it was just that. A car. An annoyance. Not the disaster I was making it.

The road service guy came just about when he was supposed to. He made a few diagnostic grunts, gave the car a jolt with his jumpers, and it purred. A lovely sound. My car was my pal again after my own shameful disloyalty. All was right with the world.

“Have a nice day,” said my hero.

And with much-needed perspective, it finally was.

April 2011
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