This past Monday, my sweet 97-year-old grandfather passed away. Monday evening, my brother, sister and brother-in-law toasted Grandpa Crisp with a Manhattan, his favorite cocktail, which he enjoyed every day at 5:00. We not only shared a drink, we shared stories as we reminisced the life of Grandpa. One story was how my grandpa used both feet when he drove–one foot for the gas and one foot for the brake. He grew up on a farm, and he learned how to drive a tractor first, which required both feet. When he began driving a car, he never broke the 2-foot method.
This little snapshot of my grandfather’s driving habits reminded me of the other men in my life who had driving particulars. Anyone who knew my father knew he followed specific self-declared driving rules. It bothered him immensely when other drivers did not adhere to his rules. It amused his children immensely as he yelled and shook his head at those drivers who should have known somehow the Tom Ball Rules for Intelligent Driving. A few examples were:
- Use the route that avoids the most traffic, stoplights, and unnecessary distance. I’ll never forget when I told him I was driving from Adrian to Livonia and took I-94 to access I-275. He shook his head and annoyingly exclaimed, “No, no, no, take 94 to the Willow Run exit and then veer to the left to get on Michigan Avenue and take that to 275 north. You’ll have a few more lights, but you’re driving too far east if you take 94 to 275.” And he was genuinely annoyed that I didn’t inherently know that route. He was right, though; his way was better and faster. Thank you, Dad.
- Do not drive in the improper lane. During one of my first driving experiences with Dad as the co-pilot, I was driving east through my hometown of Tecumseh on Chicago Boulevard. There were two lanes that went through town, and I knew the right lane merged into the left as you exited Tecumseh. I thought I was savvy when I moved from the right lane to the left ahead of time, but about a mile too early. There were at least five intersections that posed the possibility of a car that would be waiting to turn left and block our path. Once again, Dad admonished, “No, no, no! Not yet! You’ll get stuck behind someone! You don’t merge left until you cross Maumee Street!” Sorry, Dad.
- Let Archimedes takes over sometimes. My father was famous for taking “the back way.” If there was a country road route, he took it. Often these roads had long curves. If there was no on-coming traffic, Dad would cut the curve by driving in a straight line, even though it crossed over into the opposite lane. When his children yelled at him to get back over, Dad would simply state, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” Lay off the geometry, Dad.
There are others, but those were the ones that have influenced my driving habits. To this day, I can hear my dad’s voice whenever I take a route that wasn’t the fastest. Sometimes, I adjust, because to break the rule feels sacrilegious, and sometimes I say, “Sorry, Dad” and do it my way.
Even though my father is gone, his driving legacy lives on, not only in the firmly imprinted rules but also through his son, my brother, Michael. Driving with my brother is just like driving with my dad. Well, except for one thing. I can tell my brother off when he criticizes my driving. Just recently, I was driving Michael to the airport, and he questioned why I was driving in a lane. A heated discussion ensued. I may have made the comment, “If you don’t like my choice of lanes, you can Uber your ass to the airport.” And then we both laughed and had a discussion about the decision-making process of when one decides to choose to be in a lane.
For example, I hate merging into another lane if there is a large amount of traffic. Despise it. It makes me anxious. If I know I have to be in a lane to turn right or left, I’ll choose the appropriate lane as early as I can, even if it means I’ll get blocked or there’s more traffic. (Sorry, Dad). I worry that if I’m in the wrong lane and it’s time to merge over, there won’t be room for me. I won’t be able to blinker my way in and I’ll miss my exit or turn. For me, it’s more important to be in the correct lane, than it is to avoid the obstacles, even if it means it will take me longer.
After I dropped my brother off, I proceeded to my next destination and found myself driving in the right lane, of a seven-lane road, because in two miles I had to turn right. As I drove, the car in front of me putzed along while the vehicles in the lanes adjacent zoomed past. I heard both my father and my brother screaming at me, “WHY ARE YOU IN THIS LANE? GO AROUND HIM!” I looked ahead, and sure enough, even if I got out of my safe lane, the lane I thought I needed to be in, I had room to get around the car and get back to the spot I needed. I can’t tell you how liberating it is to figure out that an obstacle isn’t really an obstacle.
And that, my friends, is how a Metaphor for Life, is born. How many times have I felt like I was in the correct lane, but moving at a slower pace, because there was a putzy car in my way? How many times did I let anxiety and fear prevent me from looking ahead to see a path around the obstacle? How many times did I think I was making the safe, responsible choice, but it was actually the choice that slowed my progress?
I don’t think I am going to truly answer those questions. I don’t want to invite regret and shame in the door. I think, for now, I will recognize the new possibility of lane choices. The possibility that by changing lanes, obstacles can be left in the dust, while the path to the destination remains the same. The possibility that an anxious fear doesn’t have the control that it once did. The possibility that at times I might have to blinker my way into the lane I need, but I have the strength and persistence to accomplish that. The possibility, gasp, that my brother was right. (Boy, he’s going to love that.)