Driver’s Seat

The gray car pulled up near the sidewalk, along which I was walking.  I noticed that the pretty red-head was opening her door and was about to move around to the other side of the vehicle, so I quickly waved her back into the driver’s seat.

“I’ll ride,”  I said tiredly, and settled back into the embrace of the soft leather passenger seat.

I would ride home in near-comfort, I thought.  Well, except for being soaked to the skin.  I had begun the healthy walk half an hour before in a slight mist that gently cooled my face.  The jaunt became a disaster when the mist turned into a drenching downpour about halfway through the course.  I was wet and tired, and grumpy.

The wipers on the windshield beat an annoying rhythm as we turned the corner.  It didn’t help any that the car in front of us was dawdling along, one would suppose, to maintain a safe speed in the difficult conditions.  I wanted to get home and dry off, but even that desire didn’t take away my trepidation as the Lovely Lady drove a little closer to the car’s back bumper than I thought safe.  The muscles in my legs tensed up, almost as though I was preparing to hit the brake pedal, even though there was none on my side of the car.

As we prepared to turn the next corner, thankfully in a different direction than the slow-poke ahead of us, I noticed that the pretty redhead didn’t move her turn signal as early as I would have.  I couldn’t help the slight motion my left hand made–an instinctive desire to flip the lever up as we slowed for the right-hand turn.

We crawled up the hill, a hill that I would have sped up had I been in the driver’s seat, and once again my body tensed up as I willed the motor to a higher speed pulling us up over the crest.

I probably don’t need to speak about that stop sign at all, do I?  It would seem that my state of mind on that rainy night is crystal clear by now.

I wanted to be in control.

I wasn’t.

Not of the weather, not of my run, not of the automobile, and least of all, not of my emotions.

You should know that the Lovely Lady is an excellent driver.  I’ve had more accidents than she has, more traffic tickets, more near-misses (shouldn’t that be near-hits?), and certainly more road-rage.  She had (and has) no need to change anything about her driving.  But still…

I want to be in control.

I remember a conversation with my late father-in-law one day as we rode along a country highway on the way to a delivery.  He wondered aloud if, perhaps, he and my mother-in-law should find a different church.  I didn’t understand.  He had been a part of our church for well over thirty years by then, having served as choir director, treasurer, elder, and Sunday School teacher at various times through the years.

He pointed out that he was doing none of those things now.

“I want to be where I make a difference.”

His tone wasn’t angry, but something in his voice made me turn to look at him.  He almost seemed sad.  At the time, I didn’t make all the connections, but I think it was because I didn’t want to.  My fortunes in the same church were on the rise.  I had served as a Sunday School teacher, and treasurer, and was just then moving into the position of elder.

It was my turn to make a difference.  I was beginning to make changes that I wanted.

I wasn’t sympathetic.

Lately, I’m starting to understand those aging men who served on the church boards alongside me in my younger years.  I’m starting to feel a kindred spirit with my Mom, resisting new styles and change in the world around her.

I’m starting to understand what it’s like to be the one sitting in the passenger seat, while another, younger person moves into the driver’s seat.  And, I can’t bring myself to give up the wheel yet.

It’s funny.  If the years have taught me anything, it’s that when I think I’m in control, I’m not.  The road of life is full of potholes and debris, seemingly placed there for the specific purpose of slowing our progress.  In fact, I have come to understand that the obstructions are there to help us learn the art of living and the need for dependence on a God who doesn’t just think He is in control, but who really is in control.

All of life has actually been a training ground for the day when I get to give up the wheel and enjoy the ride.  Still, I’m really not sure I’m quite ready to let go yet.  And maybe that’s not a completely bad thing.  Just as we are given an instinct to survive, we are given the desire to achieve, the need to make a difference. 

I’m also remembering that people who have earned the position actually move to the back seat eventually and just let someone else drive.  Willingly.  Joyfully.  They learn that they can trust somebody besides themselves to keep the wheels between the lines and to get them to their destination.

I’m remembering old Mr. Hood, as he stood one evening in a church service and spoke about the changes my generation was making as we took the reins.

“I’ve had my time,”  the old saint said, with a smile on his face.  “It’s time we let someone else have theirs.”

I remember too, that he embraced the changes with relish.

I want to want that.

I’m working on it.

But, I realize that the reason many aging folks begin to withdraw from their culture is that they feel the pain of losing control.  We begin to think that no one values our contribution, as we mistake the need to change for rejection of who we are and what we believe.  In part, this may be so, but we rob our community if we stop showing up.  We actually accelerate the rate at which our part in this ever changing, ever moving world is left behind and forgotten.

As hard as it is to see the world change around us, it is essential that someone is there to tell the stories, to share where we came from, to give a reason for our faith and values.  We may not be driving, but we still have perspective to offer.

It’s a funny thing, but voices in the back seat still carry.  I’m not suggesting that we be demanding back-seat drivers like some I know; I’m just thinking that we may still be able to help with navigation when the way gets a little confusing.  

You know–I might even get to enjoy having a chauffeur.

Especially if it’s one as pretty as that redhead.

“Baseball is like driving.  It’s the one who gets home safely that counts.”
(Tommy Lasorda ~ American major league baseball player/manager)

“If you can recall what the world was like before you became tired and jaded, that’s what it’s like right now.”
(Robert Brault ~ American writer)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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