And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
It’s been a weird week. Have you ever found yourself caught up in an externally driven moment, a moment where you’re doing something that you tell yourself will make you happy, because the world would expect you to be happy? And yet something in you is saying, Stop! This isn’t me!
I found myself immersed in that this week.
My 60th birthday is coming up at the end of this month. I’d planned on spending it in Waldport, Oregon, in my favorite house in my favorite place in the world. I started putting the idea together in January, inviting my kids, reserving the house, getting airline tickets and a car rented. It made me look forward to a birthday I dreaded.
There’s just something about 60. I feel like I’m entering the final stretch, but that somehow, I missed some laps. I’m beginning to question if I will accomplish all that I set out to do, but in particular, the one life goal I set for myself when I was twelve years old, and still haven’t reached. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s impossible – or more clearly, if possibilities are disappearing from my life. If I was never capable of the goal to begin with.
Going to Oregon softened that for me. And then, of course, COVID took it away. I decided instead to go to an AirBnB on a lake in Illinois, but the city right next to it is now a hotspot, and so I canceled that too.
I think I was looking for a way to make my birthday special, and I was looking to the world to tell me what that could be. In literature, in television, in the movies, on Facebook and in other social media, people face momentous birthdays and they buy a car. A dream car. So I decided to trade in my cars and get a new one.
Here’s why this is crazy. I love my cars. My cars ARE my dream cars. I’ve written about my cars. I own a 2006 Chrysler 300C Hemi and a 2012 Chrysler 200 convertible. They’re named Hemi and Semi. And when I say I love them, I mean it.
I used to stop in the street and stare when a Chrysler 300 would pass. It always felt unreachable. About ten years ago, I reached, and Hemi came home. I call him my bodyguard. His seats adjust to me when I get in. The hemi engine provides me with great power. A little over a year ago, on the freeway, a car three up from me hit a deer. I didn’t see it because of an SUV in front of me. By the time the cars between me and the deer veered away, the only thing I could do was hit the dead deer. Hemi rode right over it. We felt the bump. But none of us were jarred or hurt. Hemi carried us smoothly to safety, and then he began to smoke. Most of Hemi’s undercarriage was torn apart. But my insurance company put him back together again. My insurance man called Hemi by name. I wept when I got him back.
Semi drove me back and forth every day to radiation. Top down, music up, he cheered me on as I went to each appointment, and he cheered me up on the way home. He was a four-wheeled partner through a difficult time.
And now I was trading them in, because it seemed like this was something that people do when they have momentous birthdays. They get a new car.
I found a beautiful BMW 430i. I drove my cars in one by one. As I handed over the keys, I sobbed. I told myself it would feel better when I drove home in the new car, complete with all the bells and whistles. Complete with the possibility for a new life, for realized dreams, for possibilities.
I didn’t feel better.
I drove the BMW home on Saturday afternoon. By Sunday, I was a wreck. I texted the dealer and I asked if I could return the car and get my own cars, the cars I love, back. And then I spent a sleepless night, waiting for their answer.
On Monday, they called me by 10:00. My cars were still there. I could have them back. That BMW couldn’t get me there fast enough. There was no Hemi under that hood.
After everything was exchanged, the dealer walked me out to the lot. The cars had been brought out and were parked, side by side.
“Oh, boys,” I said. “Oh, boys. There you are.”
And I drove them home. Several times on Monday, I looked out my window at Hemi. I opened the door to my garage and I peeked out at Semi. And I breathed a sigh of relief each time.
So what did I learn from this?
We have to honor our own versions of happiness. I was operating on what I believed would make most people happy – a new, shiny, state of the art car for a momentous birthday. But that just didn’t fit with who I am…it didn’t fit with how I feel or what makes my heart lift or what makes me smile or weep with joy. I went with a world view, over my own view.
What made me happy? Walking out of that dealer and seeing my two cars, my Hemi, my Semi, who have driven with me through some pretty rough times. Both cars have wrapped me with heated seats when I’ve been chilled (Semi even with the top down!). Both have driven me through silent roads on dark nights. Both have caused me to whoop with absolute joy at the beauty of our earth as I’ve crested a hill or swept around a curve.
Oh, boys. Oh, boys. There you are.
Maybe, in almost sixty years, I’ve learned to honor myself and my own heart.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.