It seems like I'm always learning my life lessons from the inside of my car. I once wrote about a time my tire blew, my plans changed, and I learned a valuable lesson about flexibility. Later, I wrote about a time I got stuck in traffic for several hours and learned a lesson about anger. Well, this time my car decided to teach a valuable lesson about attachment, and it did so in the scariest way possible.
I went home to visit my family last month for my brother's birthday and had an amazing time. I got to watch Drew play football (and score a touchdown!), play with Aiden, and have a wonderful dinner with my family. It was my first time to come home all semester, and I couldn't have enjoyed it more. Leaving was really hard to do, but on Sunday afternoon, I said my goodbyes and hit the road.
About an hour into my drive from Greenwood, AR, to Waco, TX, I hit a long patch of Oklahoma road that has no cell phone reception. This used to annoy me, but I've learned to accept it. I now come prepared with pre-downloaded music to listen to so that my jam session doesn't get cut off. When I came to the area on this particular trip, I was listening to a lecture from Suzanne Stabille on the Enneagram (specifically my Enneagram number, five). As I was listening to this lecture, I thought I heard a clinking sound, like something had come off of my car. And then immediately, everything started failing at once.
The first thing to go was the power steering. That's always a sure sign that something is wrong. So as I was driving down a back road in Oklahoma with no cell reception, struggling to painstakingly turn my steering wheel to keep my car on the road, I noticed that the battery light on my dashboard had lit up. At this point, I knew I had to pull over. So I started looking for a driveway to pull into. But my search was cut short by my engine's thermometer, which went from a safe temperature near the bottom of the gauge to that red part at the very top that means, "Shut off your engine now!" in a matter of a few seconds. My poor car couldn't go on any longer. I put on my emergency lights, pulled over to the side of the road, and tried to stop myself from panicking.
It all turned out fine in the end. A nice family let me use their phone, and I called a wrecker to tow me back to Fort Smith. I spent an extra night at home and was back on the road the next day. But what I realized through that experience is that I'm entirely too attached to things. Attached to my physical possessions, like my car. Attached to my view of the way the world should work (for example, the idea that my car should always work correctly). Attached to my schedule and my timeframe and my way of doing things. In that situation, I felt like I was losing all of those things, and it was rather terrifying, but also strangely freeing.
The truth is that my car isn't always going to be there. It isn't always going to work correctly. And it isn't always going to get me to where I want to be at the exact time I want to be there. And that's OK. Those aren't the most important things in life. And rather than reacting to these realizations with fear and dread, I can rather learn to accept them as a part of life and allow myself to become detached from the things that caused these negative feelings in the first place.
I'm not saying we shouldn't be connected to things. I'm very connected to my friends and family, my jobs and school, and my home here in Waco. These are things that are important to me, a part of me, and they should be. But if I convince myself that these things are permanent and never going to change, then I'm setting myself up for heartbreak. There's nothing wrong with connection, only over-attachment. There's nothing wrong with making a plan or holding a certain ideology. The problem comes when we become so attached to those things that we can't imagine our lives without them, and so we are unwilling to even stand the thought of losing them. That's being overly attached, like I was to my car, and it's not healthy.
Everything we know is transient. Nothing we can see, hear, or touch is permanent. And there really isn't any such thing as a sure thing. Maybe those statements seem depressing to you. It's probably a little healthy that they do. But it doesn't have to be a bad thing. Isn't it true that the impermanence of a thing actually adds to its value?
I mean, think about it. I spent more time thinking about and appreciating my car in those hours that I wasn't able to use it than in all the time I've had it. Because confronting its impermanence made me realize its value and how much harder my life is without it. We cherish the moments we have with our loved ones not because they're permanent but because they're special, and we know that they are limited. If a parent believes that his or her child is going to remain a kid forever, he or she is going to miss out on a lot of opportunities for special moments. But if we realize that life is impermanent, that the time we're in will soon be over, then we can truly start to appreciate how special these moment are.
I'm thankful that my car is back in working order. And from here on out, I'm going to try not to take it for granted again. Because it won't be around forever. I learned that truth the hard way. But I also learned that being overly attached to things is a problem for me, and it's something I need to work on. Because ultimately, all this stuff is temporary, and that's OK, because that's what makes it mean so much. So I'm going to grasp the things I love, just not so tightly that I can't let them go. And I'm going to connect in a healthy way—not attach in a destructive way—to the impermanent, transient, temporary, yet beautiful things that make my life what it is.