I was thinking about life in general the other day and realized something. In some ways, life is a lot like driving.
Life is a collection of moments – some short, some long, some memorable, some forgettable. Driving is also a collection of moments – and can be categorized similarly. 99% of my moments behind a vehicle’s wheel have been forgotten, but I’ll never forget when a drunk driver ran my fiancée and me off the road and we could have easily died.
My dad taught me that driving is largely how you react to things, and that as you get better at it, many of the reactions should be common-sense and become automatic. There are some situations that you can try to prepare for behind the wheel, but you’ll never know how you’ll do when it happens because there’s no real way to practice for it. Sounds a lot like life. I hope I’d have the soundness of mind to react appropriately in the case of an accident or one that was about to happen, but how would I ever know? Likewise, if something in life came my way, unexpected and unbeknownst to me, would I react appropriately? I hope so, but often we can’t practice or prepare for certain things.
How do we flex behind the wheel, to make it work? I believe we do the same thing we do in life. We make constant adjustments to the wheel. As things come up, we make incremental changes to how we’re travelling – we make small adjustments to the steering wheel, we touch the brake, we tap the accelerator. These motions allow us to move around obstacles, through traffic, speed up, slow down. We do all these things in life too. We make little adjustments in order to flex around things that come up. I have to prepare for a meeting at work so I leave a little earlier that morning to give myself time. My wife can’t figure out how to screw on the lid to the toothpaste tube after 10 years of being asked to do so – no worries, I get over it. My kid walks into the same table and smashes her face into it 3 times in a row? Let’s move that table, shall we? Simple things like that. Those are the constant adjustments that we make – on the road and in life. For the most part, they take care of business.
What about the unexpected goodies? The big ones. What happens when you’re driving down the highway and a cow falls off the truck in front of you? Literally or figuratively, you’re going to stop making ground beef jokes and you’re going to need to make one or more big moves to survive this situation. I’d say you’re going to have to veer – hard, and into a different direction. Again, this can be applied to driving as well as to life. Your girlfriend of 2 months announces she’s pregnant? No little adjustment at the wheel is going to get you around that one, my friend. You need to veer. And you need to veer hard. The direction you’re going to veer into is, of course, up to you and your girlfriend but either way, you’re not continuing on the same path. You’re expecting a baby – maybe your first – and you get the news that it will likely be a handicapped baby, with significant deficits. It’s time to veer, one way or another. Your constant back pain leads to you the doctor, after being hassled to go for 2 years by your wife. And you find out you have Stage III cancer, somewhere in your guts, where it’s going to be difficult if not impossible to treat. You’d be inhuman if you weren’t to veer after getting that news. Strangely, much as in avoiding a cow on the highway, no one can completely prepare you for these situations, and no one can tell you ahead of time which direction you ought to veer into.
There are millions of examples in terms of the little pebbles we barely nudge the wheel to get around in life, and just as many examples of the cow that just fell off the truck ahead of you on the highway.
I don’t exactly know how I’ve done so far – on the road of life. I realize that I’ve made a million little adjustments to the wheel – as I do every day. (As a matter of fact, if this ridiculous “r” key keeps sticking on me, I might stop making small adjustments and veer in the direction of smashing this keyboard on my desk.) I have also veered – more than I thought I would have to. I didn’t expect some of those huge speed bumps on the road of my life. I didn’t expect to lose my dad and my brother in the same summer. I didn’t expect to lose a couple of my jobs along the way. I didn’t expect to meet the most perfect woman in the world and for her to end up being mine. I didn’t expect to ever father children, never mind three of them. I didn’t expect to find out I had cancer. But I have met all those speed bumps along the way. Is it fair to call them all speed bumps? Absolutely not. Not all of them. Perhaps I should call some of them curves in the road, or elevation changes. I’ve been soaring on a certain high ever since I met my wife, though it’s easy to forget that some days. I’ve never quite grasped that my dad is gone, and to me, that was a curve in the road – I’ve never been going in quite the same direction since.
Do I have any advice for you? Not really. Maybe the same advice I’m going to give my kids when they get behind the wheel of a real car for the first time – look ahead, try to see around that corner or over that hill and adjust as you can. If you can plan ahead – even by milliseconds – you’ll likely make better decisions. Those milliseconds on the road may translate to minutes, hours, days or months in real life and that kind of time to make proper adjustments can make all the difference.
But here’s what I’ve taken away from all this. I’ve survived. I’ve survived the little adjustments at the wheel – compromises, quick decisions, you name it. I’ve also survived veering on life’s highway – huge decisions, life-changing decisions and one thing I haven’t talked about yet – taking risks. In my opinion, in life and in driving, the bigger the obstacle that comes your way, the more you have to veer and the bigger the risk becomes, that you now have to take. You might not see it is a risk, and although you’re veering hard to the right or the left, you’re , at very least, risking upsetting what has been status quo and potentially risking much, much more.
I’m here to tell you that you’re going to survive it. Because you have instincts that will allow you to straighten that wheel again, and to continue down the road. I’ve gained confidence in my years of being a driver, and I truly love driving. As I sit back and evaluate the decisions I’ve made behind the wheel of life’s car, I realize that I truly love this ride as well. My friend, unless you’re a Hindu, you’ve only got the one drive – look ahead, make the right adjustments behind the wheel as best as you know how, veer into different directions when you have to, take risks – big or small, and get back on track when you’re able to. What more can you ask of yourself?
As a final note, I’ve likely written the word veer more often in this post than I have in my life, and it now sounds weird to me. Veerd.
Wishing you and yours safe travels – on any road you’re on.