On Learning to Drive (and Trust)

“What took you so long to learn how to drive,” said the examiner as he got into the car, saddling himself next to me. No doubt, preparing for a bumpy ride.

But, indeed, what has taken me so long?

All these years, I’ve been quick to blame my reluctance to get behind the wheel on a general condition known as laziness. An affliction known to many, overcome by few. Further examination, however, revealed that something else was at the root. Fear.

My mother didn’t drive. Her mother didn’t drive. And my mother probably shouldn’t drive. And if my mother shouldn’t drive, perhaps neither should I.  Their husbands drove though— and I didn’t have one of those on-call. So I had to take matters into my own hands.

I recall my first time in the driver’s seat. It wasn’t pretty. My father, a man who is about as relaxed and gentle as Putin, took me to an empty parking lot behind a school and barked orders.  ”You’ve got to feel the car,” he instructed, clinging on to dear life. For him, with me behind the wheel, no matter how slowly I moved, the car instantly transformed into a deathtrap.

My nerves couldn’t handle his shrill screams, which alternated between discernable signs of anger and fear. Neither of which were good for my psyche. There had to be another way.

A perfect stranger.

You see, professional strangers (aka, known as driving instructors) are less familiar with your maneuvers and are better trained to deal with sudden breaks and accidental lane changes.

But each day, on the road, we entrust our lives to regular strangers— some kind and considerate, and many who are not.  Our lives are in their hands. None of this is more obvious than when you find yourself being tailgated going at 70mph, or being cut-off on a freeway, an inch to your life.

In our daily lives, we would be terrified if a civilian walked down the street with a knife or gun in their hands, but on the road, everyone has a weapon. As a society, we trust that they won’t use it on us.

But where does that trust come from?

The thing is, you’re not merely trusting strangers, you’re also trusting yourself not to run them over.

That’s a type of trust that may come easily to many people, but not me.

By the time I passed my exam – I’ve been driving for less than 6 months (and never alone).  I was in possession of a terrifying sort of confidence, determined to get behind the wheel on my own. On the one hand, my hands have stopped shaking. On the other, by the time I’d pull over, my heart would be beating dangerously fast.

Let’s face it, I was scared.  Until one day I wasn’t.  That was the day my GPS stopped working and then everything came crashing. Loudly, and at a price tag I’m still mourning.

Life is kind of like that. Sometimes, without even fully realizing it, you throw yourself into dangerous situations. It doesn’t mean that you have to go street fighting with a ninja, or dive off of a cliff — but anything that scares you can potentially be dangerous. Public speaking, exotic travel, changing a career, dating someone new, starting a family…driving.  They can all be downright terrifying.

But you do it, because somewhere deep inside you realize that without risk, there’s no growth, no movement.  If we didn’t risk, we wouldn’t change, we wouldn’t discover.

Something as basic as driving can have a tremendous impact too. Beyond the satisfaction of slaying my fears with a half-dull samurai sword, it has given me a certain power to move quicker and explore my surroundings in ways I couldn’t before. I can now drive to a remote forest or a mysterious nearby town, and have endless new kinds of adventures. And I’ve got independence.

Admittedly, it took me some time to rebuild the confidence that took just seconds to dissolve.  But I did it, and my life is richer for it.

The fear hasn’t disappeared, it helps keep me alive. It’s healthy. But it doesn’t run my engine. So to speak.

Yes, sometimes you fail. But you get behind the wheel again and again…and one day you may wake up to discover that you actually like driving.

(That is, until you rent a car that is clearly plotting to kill you, but that is a story for another time…)

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