by Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW, MSW
I am not a fast learner. I make mistakes and suffer consequences and then just to be sure to get that particular lesson through my thick skull I go ahead and make the same or a fractionally different mistake all over again. It would be nice if this were limited to unimportant areas, say the proper elocution of African bush speak…but no.
When I was in high school I bought my first nice car. It was a dark blue Isuzu Impulse purchased from a used car lot. It had a kicking stereo system and sleek lines and I fell in love the moment I saw it. The Isuzu made me feel like a James Bond girl, dangerous and exotic. In fact the Isuzu was dangerous, but not in a sexy way. More like a trying-to-kill-me way.
Unbeknownst to me, it had been totaled in an accident by the previous owner. (Things I didn’t know then: always ask “has this car been in an accident?”) It had rear wheel drive and fat tires which caused it to fishtail wildly in rain or snow, two weather conditions which were steady in Minnesota. The tires were bald. The windshield wipers: nubs. The defogger barely made two ovals to squint through.
Then there were the problems that had nothing to do with the car: I didn’t trust auto mechanics and thought their advice about oil changes and maintenance schedules were a scam. I’d like to say this was just a rookie mistake but the Izuzu was my second car; my first one having been an even more mechanically impaired ‘69 Pontiac Sunbird. I never got the oil changed, never had the coolant flushed or the battery replaced or the timing belt serviced. I drove my car in complete and utter neglect, getting it towed in to the mechanic for service only when it wouldn’t start. And I did the same thing to the next car after that…As well as the next three cars. I went through six cars and was thirty years old before I finally learned to track oil changes and schedule preventative maintenance.
In my work with clients I am struck by how impatient we can be with ourselves, with our learning process, with how easy it is to fall into self judgment and self criticism. It can be achingly painful to see the results of our mistakes, the opportunities lost, the connections broken, the sense of ease within our own lives that we all long for, unrealized. Our pace of change never matches our impatient demand for it.
But if even I, slow learner that I am, can take care of a car, a mute, inanimate and uninteresting object, consider how much more fascinating and verbal and multifaceted humans are compared to cars, and know this: we can all learn how to take better care of ourselves. We are all of us worth it.