Recently, a friend of mine went through a difficult break-up. Coincidentally, everything else in his world turned upside-down at the same time. Classes got harder. Teachers became more unfair. He didn’t get selected for an overseas trip he’d applied for. In talking with him, it seemed he was resigned to the fact that the Fates were aligned against him. The way things were going for him, he felt the best he could hope for was probably to make it out of each day alive and with all of his digits intact. Nothing more. Perhaps not even that much.
A couple of weeks back, on my way to meet with friends for breakfast, I hit a stray piece of road debris that sliced through my tire. Quick with the spare, I made good time and caught up with my friends. But before a week was out, the car in front of me on the highway began falling apart as I watched, a large chunk of rusted exhaust system now bounding toward me. I couldn’t avoid it. I winced as it clunked under my left-side wheels. Just a few miles later, my car had the tell-tale swish — like driving through oatmeal. No sooner had I pulled off the highway than I heard the fwap-fwap-fwap that marked the end of another tire.
I sure was becoming handy with a crowbar and jack.
Twenty minutes later, I set out to finish the remaining eight-minute drive home. Three minutes in, the car behind me was flashing its lights and motioning to me through the windshield, palm to palm as if trying to clap around an invisible sponge. I figured he’d seen my spare, which is much smaller than my regular tires, and perhaps mistaken it for a flat. I waved at him in thanks. But then I felt it. More oatmeal.
I looked out the window to see — the back left tire was also all but flat. No spare.
I coaxed the car home and into a parking spot. One spare. One flat.
Just days ago, not a week out from the tire incidents, an unusual and disturbing sound began under my hood. It was as if I were dragging bricks on chains beneath the car. Really horrific stuff. Turns out, my linkage chain assembly inside the engine (???) had broken apart.
Something strange was afoot. What are the chances that one guy would get three flat tires due to random road debris in a week’s time, followed by an engine malfunction? Had association with my unlucky young friend begun to rub off on me now? What did it all mean?
Sometimes in life, I think we are all tempted to read into things. Something decidedly “un-fun” happens, and we somberly assert that “bad things come in threes” and other similarly ominous predictions.
The fact is that people break up. And had my friend not been emotionally impacted by the loss, his classes might not have seemed so overwhelming. Perhaps that teacher’s shortcomings might not have bothered him quite as much.
This week, he told me that he’d gotten the inside scoop on the trip he’d missed out on. Come to find out, out of over 160 applicants, he’d made the top 20. Part of the decision had to do with balancing out males and females. But the point is — he almost made it. And this bolstered his confidence to try again. Still, hadn’t this fact been true all along, even when his runes were seeming to read utter ill fate?
In my case, the truth is that, with town and state budget cuts, roads are in terrible repair. It should not be surprising then that cars are losing pieces in potholes more often. And my car has over 260,000 miles on it. Should I be surprised if the engine doesn’t last forever?
Actually, during these seeming slaps of fate, some wonderful human interactions have happened. Those friends who joined me for breakfast generously slipped me a handful of twenties when they dropped me off at the tire repair shop, leaving me with a bill of only $15 for the brand new tire. When the next two tires blew, my roommate happened to have a patch kit in his truck and was able to immediately repair one of the tires. Another friend came and helped me rotate the tires, so that the new ones would both be in back, after which he and his wife took me to a nice dinner for which they treated. All of the help allowed me to be able to drive on the spare to a tire shop, where I found that the other tire was also able to be repaired instead of needing to be replaced. All tolled, my three flats had cost me a mere $30.oo!
As for the engine, I took it over to John. “Not good,” he said with a serious grimace, his head under the hood. “Not good at all.” And that is true. This is where, after having taken the engine apart piece by piece, John informed me of the linkage chain issue. And yet, in the end, out of love for me, he is doing the repairs for the cost of parts and no more than a sorry pittance for labor. I wonder how he even eats, with generosity of this magnitude!
In the meantime, while the repair is underway, I have free and unlimited use of one of my mother’s vehicles.
So, am I unlucky to have had so many car problems so close together? Or am I extremely fortunate to be surrounded by so many people who love me, that I hardly felt the hit to my wallet? Was it a curse? Or an increase in opportunities to see my many blessings?
Perspective is a funny thing.
I can’t help but recall yet again my friend Carlotta’s sage advice: “Life isn’t fair. The sooner you realize this, the happier you will be.”
Bad stuff happens. Will we read into it? Personify it? Give it control over our lives, like some sort of witch doctor poking pins into the straw versions of us?
Or can we simply shrug and say, “Oh well, things happen” — and then look for opportunities within the trials, to engage with others and realize how connected and fortunate we truly are?