One day while heading down the road in my old car, I found myself heading in a direction I did not like. Things have just gotten confusing lately and I just needed some fresh air, I thought I just needed some time to myself. However, the air was not cleaner here, in fact it had a stench I had smelled before.
As I thought about it, I came to realize it was coming from within my car. I have been driving this old thing for such a long time I hadn’t noticed it quite like this. It was sickening, I found myself hating it and wishing for something different.
I had made sure to keep the outside looking good for others to see, but I would not let them inside, at least I was hoping they couldn’t see it for what it really was. A broken down old junk heap of a car.
Going to the mechanic once in a while lately is helping me understand this old car more and more. You know, It is the car my parents owned, and their parents before them. It is what I have come to know, and believed to trust. But lately, and more often, I have found that I am also driving down the same old roads my parents use to drive on.
I am beginning to remember how the old car used to wonder all over the road, sometimes seemingly out of control and even hitting other drivers once in a while. What a mess. I can still hear the anger in the voices, someone yelling at my father for not looking out for them. Not paying attention.
I remember the time we got a flat tire, he was in a hurry to get somewhere, and how this was going to make him late. Luckily, someone had put a jack and spare tire in the trunk, and with a little work we where on our way again. I remember him saying that he was grateful that someone would know that flat tires happen once in a while and thought enough to make sure his car was equipped with a spare.
One day my father was in such a hurry that he drove away without me. Didn’t even notice I was missing until after his appointment. Over the years other things like this happened, the dirt continued to cling to the finders. What an ugly old car. Yes, he was sorry at times, asking for forgiveness once in a while. At those times I noticed that the car just looked nicer, cleaner. But after a while the car would just get dirty again.
That’s when I decided I wanted to have my own car. However, this is where things got a little strange, I did get my own car, but I made sure without giving it a lot of thought to get a car that looked a lot like my parents car. In fact, in many ways, it was still my parents old junk heap. How this happened I’m not sure, but at least I’m on my own now, ready to drive down my own roads. Or so I thought.
One day while driving I came to a Y in the road. I wanted to turn to the right, but didn’t know where it would lead me, so I took a left because it was a road well traveled by my parents. Yes, it has a lot of bad memories, but there were many good memories as well. It’s a place I know.
As the years passed, the old car kept breaking down here and there and it just seemed to be getting worse now faster than I can keep up. I remember well the day I had to be somewhere and the stupid thing got a flat tire. I have never changed a tire before, but I seen my father do it, so I popped the trunk and grabbed the jack. Then I lifted the mat and realized that the tire was never replaced, or was this my car? Anger shot through me, why did he not replace the tire? Maybe it was my car, but he should have known better!
I could have walked somewhere and called for help, but I did not want to leave my old car, even if it was a piece of junk. Would anyone else want it? From the outside, yes, they might, but once they seen what the inside looked like, most likely not.
Either way, as much as I have come to hate this thing, it was mine, and because I knew it well I would just tolerate it. So I pushed it for several miles and found a mechanic who would help me get a new tire on it. Like my father, I was angry that I had missed my appointment. I know I should have put a new tire in the trunk, but I didn’t. Is it my fathers fault for not replacing the tire? In some ways it is. Yes, it is my car now, but he should have thought that this would most likely happen to me some day.
I remember when I got married, what great days we had before and after the marriage. We were so in love. Yes, she drove up in an old car similar to mine, she said it was kind of strange when she got it because in many ways it is the same car her father drove.
Something new happened though on our wedding day. We made a vow to each other, to love and cherish each other through the good and the bad, though rich or poor, through sickness and in health. We made a vow before God and our family. This was not hard to do, we were in love, love will cover all! No problem!
When we got out of the church, a man was standing there with a set of keys in his hand, leaning against a new shiny car. Through the years we have ridden and even driven cars like this. He smiled at us and said, “here is the keys to your new car.” I heard you say your vows just moments ago, and I believe you are ready for a new car that you can enjoy together.
We looked at each other and smiled. Wow, this is just getting better and better. When we turned back to the stranger, he said a few more things. “There is a condition before you can drive this car. I’m going to ask that you let me come with you where ever you go. I want to spend time with you showing you all the great things this car has and can do, and the great places this car can go. There are many uncharted roads that await us. Remember the Y in the road? I want to show you what is down the right road.”
It was a great day, but a small bit of fear entered our minds. While we didn’t like our old cars, in fact, we hated them, we have come to believe in them, thought we understood them, have many good and bad memories with them. They were what we knew. This guy was asking us to not only get in a new car we are not familiar with, but now is asking that we take him with us, and he wants to go down roads we know nothing about!
We both realized that he was asking us to trust him by faith. To just believe that what he is telling us is true, and that we are supposed to just accept his word. That car did look beautiful, I’m sure it drives like a dream. We both looked over to our old cars. They looked pretty good on the outside. We have made most people believe that the inside looks great too. With enough spit and polish, we could get on with life pretty well.
But we were in love! We were full of hope for the future! Nothing was going to stand in our way! We didn’t need those old cars. In fact, our marriage signifies a new beginning, why not start it out with a new shiny car? We turned back to the stranger and agreed. He just looked at us and smiled. I thought he would walk over to us and hand me the keys, but he didn’t. It was a little awkward, so I asked him what happens next? He said, “you have only to walk to me and take the keys.” So we did.
I asked him what was going to happen to our old cars? He said, “what old cars, and laughed.” We turned to look and they were still there, but car covers had been placed over top of them. Without further thought, we got into our shiny new car. Wow! The inside was just as beautiful as the outside. It smelled so good, like that brand new car smell of the finest leather.
We left and talked for a good long time before we all became tired and just drove. I began to wonder to myself about this whole thing. Why was this guy willing to give us this car? What did he want to share with us? What did he want to show us?
What a ride! The next two years would prove to be the most amazing we both would ever experience. Yes, we had tough roads to travel, there were bumps and mud, but as long as we allowed the stranger to go with us, to talk with us, to share life together, nothing seemed too big. Our love was strong and we just forgave each other without really thinking about it.
Life was good, but lately I was wondering what ever came of our old cars. The more I thought about my old car the more I thought about all the memories. The more I thought about the memories, the more I found myself finding things wrong with things. First there was just a few things that were going kind of wrong. Surely just some misunderstanding.
Shaking it off and telling myself it is just in my mind, I went about the day, driving here and there. Finding some new interests and work pulling me here and there, time seemed to become more precious to me. My time. Without a lot of thought, I could sense something was missing, something was different. Something was wrong.
I remember the stranger telling us that the doors to the car are always unlocked, we are always free to leave, free to go. I thought when he said that, what would I ever do that for? In fact I told him that. I remember him smiling and shrugging his shoulders while saying, “I don’t know, just wanted you to know that you are free to do as you please.”
I remember driving one day and noticed that that fine leather smell was no longer present, in fact the car seemed to wonder more than I remember and the bumps in the road seemed to be more noticeable. My heart skipped a beat as reality sunk in. Fear raced through my heart as I slammed on the breaks. Jumping out of the car and looking at it, I could clearly see it now, this was my old car, I have been driving my old car. Or was it? Is it possible that as time passed that we just no longer cared about the beautiful car the stranger gave us. The stranger!? I leaned into the car and seen he was not there. When did he leave I wondered?
Once I settled down, I got back in and began to drive away looking in my rear-view mirror. For a moment I thought I saw the stranger leaning against a beautiful car with keys in his hand, but I shook it off as dashavoo. Something in my past. Something wonderful, but distant in my mind.
Over the years, children came, good times and bad times all seem to run together. Every once in a while, we would have a dead battery or flat tire. Looking over the hood, or peering up from beside the car, I could see the same mirage of the stranger, always leaning against that beautiful car with the keys in his hand.
On several occasions I found myself walking toward him, straining to see if he was real, but always stopped when all the thoughts of all the years of things we did, or failed to do for each other raced through my mind. He somehow vanished from my sight, from my mind. But somewhere deep in my heart told me he was still there.
Driving down the road in my pile of junk of a car, my mind begins to wonder. How could what started out to be so beautiful, so hopeful, so wonderful just fade away? The pain I feel in the silence is unbearable. A memory filled with laughter and giggles of small children now haunt me every day. I find myself drawn to find the truth, I am beginning to hate my existence. My heart is becoming bitter, and find myself blaming others for all that has happened.
I feel trapped. What is this? What is going on? How does this happen without me knowing, or seeing it coming? Over the weeks I can’t sleep, my mind is racing to figure this out, to go back to what I once remember, now seemingly so long ago. Prison would be better than this. A knife to the side, something that can be identified and fixed. But this, this is different. It is dark, black and cold. It smells and makes my skin crawl.
I begin to wonder if all this thinking and living in this place could be the problem. I remember the stranger talking to us, telling us about guarding out hearts, always being grateful in and for everything. I remember I had come to really love that stranger. Sometimes we talked and laughed into the night. But that was then. That is now gone.
Who can we turn to for help. I need help. I cannot do this on my own. That is when I made a decision to bring my old car to the mechanics. They always found ways to patch things up. I remember them telling me some time ago that we just needed to spend more time focusing on what was best for my old car. It’s not perfect, their repairs will not last too long, but it will keep me going they said.
I remember one time while at the mechanics adding more power to the motor, a feeling that someone else was there. The mechanic assured me that no one else was there. He said he would help give my old car more power. That it was my lack of power that was causing the old thing to do things I didn’t want it to. More power meant that I didn’t have to wait for others, that I could just fly right on past, leaving them in the dust, he laughed.
In fact that reminds me of one time while going down the road shortly after he gave me more power, of passing someone stranded along side the road. As I passed, I remember telling myself to the fellow, “been there buddy!” Shaking my head with a smile… people sure have their problems.
Anyway, I was liking this new power, yes, the car was out of control, breaking the laws and occasionally bumping into other drivers, but we all have our own cars to look out for. This is my time with my car! Yes, there was that thing that kept tugging at me, something I probably should be doing, or not be doing. The road is full of potholes, mud is all over the fenders just like my parent’s cars, but I am learning something new, I am learning that I am better than that. With a few stops at the mechanic now and then, we can continue to focus on what is really important, my car.
Others ask me once in a while why I don’t wash my old car. Old car? What you calling an old car? They point and tell me – look, right there, look at all the dirt. I don’t know what they are talking about, looks perfectly fine to me. They don’t know what they are talking about. I am very careful to keep the outside of my car clean, the inside, well, I’m working on that. Little by little I fix some things here and there. Stuff happens to the interior every day, but just look at the inside of that car, or that one. Mines not so bad.
Those people have there stories and I got mine. Stuff happens. You just let it go and in time it will fix itself. When it can’t, you can just ignore it. I know stuff about this car that no one else knows about. Stuff I did with it, and stuff that others did to it. My main focus right now is just to get by. Keep the old thing running. Maybe over time, as the mechanic and me go through it we will find ways to fix some things, and it will be ok.
One day while at the mechanic, he asked if I had ever seen a stranger in the area. I looked at him and wondered if he was talking about the same guy I once knew. I said I think I see him once in a while while traveling down the road. Why? Well, it’s been years that we have been fixing this old car of yours, and just wondering if you are sick of it yet? I didn’t answer him, only looked at him, wondering why he was questioning my ride. Was he telling me there was something wrong with it? Well, I guess I know the answer to that, but I thought we were going down this road together. His question seemed to say that he was getting tired of fixing it. I thought that is what you do to old cars.
As I drove away that day, I began to wonder if it isn’t in the bad that has happened that causes the pain, but in letting go of the good. Over the last few months, I have been focused so much on my old car, I think I have forgotten to take time to look at the good in others. Is it possible that if all I think about is my old car, I cannot even see clearly what it is, what pain it is causing to others. Others. Others. What am I doing for others? In fact, I think I have loved ones in my own life! What am I doing to them by my absence, by my neglect? …I made some promises.
Just then, I seen a flash on the corner of my eye. I turned to see a familiar face. Without even thinking, I slammed on the breaks and did a 180 right there in the middle of the road and drove back. This was no mirage, this was the stranger, my friend. And as before, leaning against that beautiful car I once remember driving.
I got out of my car and walked over to him, standing about 10 feet away. He spoke first, and said, “I’ve missed you.” I said, I thought I had destroyed your beautiful car, I thought my old car was what I turned your car into. He said, “no one can destroy my car, my car never gets old, it always smells of the finest leather, and always drives over potholes in the road we travel with little notice.” I felt ashamed for leaving him so long ago, I rubbed my face, nervous and said, “my old car has been down some pretty nasty roads, I have hurt others and others have hurt me. Frustrated now, I asked why he was never around when I went down those bad roads?”
He said, “I have always been around, you just didn’t take the time to look in my direction. You were so focused on your old car that you couldn’t even see me standing right with you, every step of your journey.” I said, “why didn’t you help me then?” He said, “you have a free will to do as you please, even years ago when we used to all drive together, you knew you could get out of the car when ever you wanted. You may not remember exactly why, but one day you reached for the door handle and stepped out. By your choice.”
Thinking about all the things that others have done to me now, and with a little stronger voice, I told him it wasn’t fair, I had no choice in all the things that were done to me. What about that? He said, “life comes with many troubles, in the middle of the circumstances of life, when everything seems to be against you, you still have a choice of how you react, or to not react. In your anger, you hurt the very ones who you say have hurt you. You still have a responsibility for your own actions or in-actions in your response. Doing nothing in many cases, may be more damaging than lashing out. In fact, doing nothing, is also a choice you make that comes with ramifications.”
Yes I responded, but this road I am on, the old car that I drive, there are many things that have happened without me ever wanting it to, in many situations I didn’t even know I was hurting other people. The stranger answered with a smile. “Things that happen consciously or unconsciously when you are driving your own car, is still a willingness on your part. You see, I remember that day you willingly walked out of my car. It happened when you let everyday life just happen.
You willingly let life just happen on it’s own. Because of that choice the other things that happened, even unconsciously, happened because you stopped caring about your loved ones like you used to. That was a choice which began a serious of situations that have further caused pain to yourself and to others. The more you let go of caring to take action, the more things snowballed out of control, fingers are pointed, names are called, and before you know what is happening, you become bitter, angry and resentful toward the very one you vowed to love and cherish.
Things have gotten so out of hand, and you have gone down this road for so long that you have forgotten all the great times you had together, all the great qualities you each have that compliment each other. All you can think of now is what the other is doing to make life hard for you. And that is just not even the issue. In most cases it is not even true.”
As I continued to think about these things, I was quite sure the stranger did not know about all the roads I have traveled. He doesn’t know all the junk, the pain and shame I carry. He doesn’t know me! I was suddenly shocked to see him kind of fade from view. Oh, I knew he was still there – he was right there, but somehow just slowly disappearing from my sight. The more I wanted to focus on me and tell him about my problems, the more he faded from my view. Then I heard a faint voice, saying, focus on me. Just focus on me. But… I responded, and he faded even more. But, did you know what happened to…, he faded even more.
Realizing that I was doing the same thing I have done for years, driving him and others away by focusing on myself, he faded from my view completely. I turned and looked at my old car. Sure it looked pretty good on the outside…, Oh who was I kidding? Now that I am really looking at it, it looks bad on the outside too, it sure does not look like the strangers car that is for sure! I stood there. Alone. Looking at my old beat-up car. It looked like every other old car that was pieced together through the years to be made to look, well, ok. I hated it now more than ever before!
Then I remembered something the stranger had said, that he was always with me. He was and is always with me. Without knowing what to do, I tried something I hadn’t done for years, probably sense I was little. I looked in the direction that I last seen the stranger, and said in a quiet voice, “I need you. I am sick of this junk heap of a car. I’m sick of where it has taken me. I’m tired of keeping the outside clean while knowing the inside is a mess. I want to ride in that beautiful car of yours once again.
It was working, the more I let my old car go out of my mind, the more I focused on what I really wanted, the more the stranger came into view. My heart lept, I turned my gaze toward my old car just to make sure…, I felt a hand touch my chin and pull my eyes back to him, back to the one who really cared for me. Tears began to run down my face, he was smiling just a little and a tear rolled down and over his cheek. He did not step forward, like on my wedding day, but opened his arms. I knew he would always be there, but I had to be the one to step forward and into his arms.
My legs went weak, but he held me with strong arms, my head now buried in his shoulder, sobbing now, my tears flowed freely and everything inside me washing away. Time passes, but I know he has all the time in the world for me. I don’t even want to move, just this feeling of his embrace seemed to encompass the goodness I have been longing for.
I knew my old car was behind me, I also knew it already had a car cover over it. Not to protect it or to hide it, but to remove it from my view. I knew now what the stranger already knew about that car and what roads I had traveled. I knew he didn’t have a limit on his love for me, that nothing was to big or too small for him. I also knew that I had neglected my family and the one most dear to my heart. The one I had given my heart to. I had some telling to do, some forgiveness to ask for. Yes, I have been hurt too, but right now, that just doesn’t seem important.
Oh, I will remember my past, it’s there, I may even revisit it, and peek under the car cover to learn something now and then, but I know I do not need to live there anymore. There is very little about that old car that I care to remember. But there were many good times through the years that I will always be mindful of and grateful for. I am going to focus on the good things of my past, I’m sure there are many if I think about it. And I am going to think about the good things in our future, and what the stranger has in store for me and my family as we head down the road in his beautiful car – once again!