The car as a metaphor for life
My car is sending me messages, or it was until it died. In my haste to ‘do’ I seriously neglected my mode of transport. I drove to meetings, appointments and other ‘important’ places and failed to put oil and water into the little engine of my Suzuki.
Even when it made loud noises and cried out I ignored the signs. Just get me there I demanded. In protest or in total desperation the engine seized up on a steep hill three kilometres out of Federal village.
Male friends looked too stunned at my lack of auto care to even make jokes about it. Female friends sympathised — it could have happened to anyone, they said kindly.
My punishment is the cost of a new re-conditioned engine.
The next day a penalty notice arrived in the post. My car had been photographed driving 15 km over the speed limit coming out of Tweed Heads; a bill for $127 was enclosed. I lost two demerit points after twenty-three years of a clean driving record.
On the third day I borrowed a friend’s car and in my rush to be punctual to a meeting I blindly ignored the petrol gauge flashing EMPTY as I flew by Ozigo.
The car came to a standstill amongst the flat fields of Myocum and I hitched a ride to Mullumbimby with a paint salesman.
The advice flowed in. Slow down someone said. You’re not looking after yourself. Not feeding your own engine. This is a sign that you need to change your path. Take stock of your life. Others shook their heads in a knowing way.
Who needs a therapist when you have a car that sends clear and concise messages and plenty of people eager to interpret its behaviour?
At the Findhorn Foundation Community in Scotland machines and other inanimate objects are given names. In the Cluny kitchen there was Doris the toaster, Phil the stove and Ian the fridge. Their names encouraged users to relate in a more conscious way with the object and have respect for its purpose. We can develop a relationship with the toaster if it has a name, it personalises the way we use it, and we take more care and are less likely to vent our frustrations onto it was the theory behind Doris, Phil and Ian.
Maybe my car was not only lacking in oil but in name and personality. If I had called it Fred or George and associated with it in a more caring way could I have prevented this costly breakdown? With the name Loser springing to mind when I think about my dead car at the mechanics yard I justified what happened by acknowledging that it was only a car, it’s only money. No one was hurt.
So my nameless car is having an extreme makeover, new engine, new radio and I might even fix some of the interior upholstery with black duct tape. And I promise to treat it better.
Perhaps a naming ceremony and a pat on the bonnet every now and then. I could work on my relationship with my car. It deserves it for giving me the freedom to head to the beach, the waterfall, the café anytime I like.
So I resolve to look after my car when it returns home in two weeks, to feed it, nourish it and secretly give it a name. To whisper encouragement to it as we ride the steep hills on our quest for freedom. And what about me… if my car is running well will the perception be that I am in control? Is it an illusion that if the inanimate objects are running smoothly so is my life?
And what about my laptop, the electric kettle, the washing machine?
The kids and I have enough trouble thinking up names for the chooks and ducks let alone the household objects as well. All the animals have names and because of the high turnover of chickens we have resorted to naming them in alphabetical order. It helps us keep track of their age and egg-laying capacity. Astonished is over the hill while Dinner should be in her egg-laying prime. So my relationships with the dog, the ducks and the chooks are on track. I talk to them and tell them my problems.
But chatting to my kitchen appliances? Who needs friends? I’ll be so busy nurturing these new relationships that I won’t have time for people friends. But maybe my life will work better.
An alternative is to take stock of myself, be more mindful, be present, in the moment and get my act together.
Yet I can’t help thinking that crooning to the fridge sounds like a much easier option.
Originally published in Here & Now magazine, 2004