© copyright 2003 Michael P. Hamilton, Ph.D.
My Life as a Car
I just love it when a new metaphor springs into my mind. Having spent a lifetime fascinated by technology, it seems natural to contemplate my life as a car. I'm motoring my way around the world, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, and sometimes sparkling clean and at other times in need of a wash. I try to keep moving at a comfortable rate of speed, cruising back roads and byways, freeways and toll ways, being careful not to run too low on gas. I don't like travelling the same road too often, preferring to try a different route if the trip I'm currently taking is going to be long and potentially interesting. For short journeys, I find avoiding crowded roads is always the best way to go.
There have been a lot of passengers in my car over the last forty-four years, some for a short trip, and some have stayed around for years. My two children are growing up in my car, and after my ten-year marriage to their mother was over, both of the kids decided to keep driving with me. They still argue about who gets to ride shotgun, even though my son just passed his learners permit exam and will be driving alone in less than a year. I've enjoyed all of my driving companions, but driving alone can be a lot of fun too.
About a year ago a new companion grabbed my attention and asked for a ride. Although I didn't know her very well, she told me that she has been watching me drive and really wanted to go to the same places I was going. I thought this was rather odd, how could she know where I was going when half the time I don't particularly want to know where I'm going... it's the ride that is my goal. But if she shared my philosophy of the road, then why not come along. She was different from any of the passengers I have had in my car before, so my curiosity about her, and a great deal of mechanical magnetism, compelled me to say "hitch your car to mine and hop on in." The first few roads we took were very exciting -- winding, mountain roads with great vistas and a myriad of beautiful things to see. We were both fascinated by those roads, and so our new love for each other grew. Our cars seemed to share a lot of similar "features and accessories" and it wasn't long before we both began to fantasize about sharing our cars for a long, long time.
We weren't too many miles down the road when my passenger wanted to take the wheel. I said "sure, you drive for a while, but I'd like to see what's over that next set of hills." For the next few months we took turns driving, and found we could both drive and feel safe on this road, feel good about being together, and dream about the new things to see around the next bend. One day, I'm not sure exactly when, she began to mention that she thought she was hearing some troubling engine noises. I wasn't too concerned; so many years of driving gave me a second sense about when there were real problems, or when it was just the normal rattle of a middle-aged car. But she persisted to the point of getting me worried, so we pulled over and lifted the hood to check things out. Ordinarily I don't let just anyone lift my hood and check out my more intimate underpinnings. I pride myself at being a self-taught mechanic, and it's only when the really troublesome problems crop up that I usually consulted a professional mechanic for help. I asked my friend to ignore the noise, in my opinion whatever she heard is probably normal; I'm confident that it would correct itself in time. I didn't want to tell her that it was unlikely that she could know how my car worked, as I am unique. But she assured me that she has worked on a lot of other people's cars, has seen these problems before. In fact, her own car has some of the same problems, so I should trust her... I love her don't I?
Before I could say "Ouch, that hurts!" she had removed dozens of parts from the engine compartment, some that I had recently installed and others I didn't know existed. There we're cherished parts that were gifts from others, and "custom" parts I had tediously modified and coaxed into working order. There were parts that perhaps no other car in the universe but mine contained. She would hold a part in her hand, saying "it has to go," or "that probably needs some work," or "this I can fix." Soon the pile of parts exceeded what was left under the hood, and it was painfully obviously that my car was not going anywhere too soon. With a look of exasperation on her face, she gazed into my pained eyes and told me that she couldn't help me, I would have to see a mechanic. And on top of that, she told me that I really should have been seeing a mechanic on a regular basis, then I wouldn't be in the mess I am now. Finally, as if to disassemble my last bit of self worth, she told me that she really didn't want to go on this road after all.
By this time my oil had leaked entirely from all of my seals and rings. I tried to ignore her as she stood nearby and began to disengage her car from my car. I surveyed the damage, and decided I had the right tools in the trunk to put myself back together. As I worked, my passenger watched, all the while making suggestions about connecting this to that, or leaving this thing out. None were particularly helpful, and if anything, just slowed me down from getting back on the road. My frustration was reaching new levels; I was very distracted by her comments, her apparent unwillingness to help me, and so I began to wish I could be alone. She had already decided to leave my car and drive her own, yet insisted on following me. Her car was ready to go, and I told her that I didn't understand why she wasn't driving towards whatever destination beckoned. She said it was impossible for her to leave, she had driven all this way with me, and was afraid to leave. This statement was perplexing, I shared much of the driving with her, and she made many of the choices of where to turn and what to see. She had sought me out, insisting that she was making her own choices about driving with me. Why did she lack confidence to be her own navigator? I knew that it would be difficult to take her along, it took so long to put my parts back together, and I found the prospect that she might dismantle me once again unnerving.
We were back on the road after a many more arguments about which parts should go where. Before long there was a fork in the road, and we both reached for the wheels of our cars and turned in opposite directions. I brought my car to a halt as I watched her head down the road, and it was clear that at that moment we both knew which way we wanted to go.