driving lessons

This article is now featured on A Hopeful Sign.

“You’re lucky it didn’t start on fire,” the auto-shop owner said to me as he showed me the brake pads from the rear of my car—brand new the day before, now burned to a crisp.  I left Minneapolis on Friday afternoon to visit my nephew and sister.  A four-hour drive turned into an eight-hour ordeal when I recognized that something was wrong with my car.

As I tried to accelerate on the highway, I noticed the engine needed a lot of power to catch up with the other cars. After stopping four times, becoming increasingly nervous as my car shook on the highway, yet still trying to convince myself that it was all in my head, I finally found a mechanic in a small town in rural Minnesota.

It turned out the problem wasn’t at all in my head. My new brakes had not retracted, creating tremendous drag on the car—and keeping me from getting up to speed. No wonder I was having problems accelerating: my brakes were on.

While waiting for my car to be repaired, I walked around the parking lot of the auto-shop, talking myself down from the anxiety that had surfaced with good reason. After replacing the brakes and rotors for the second time in two days, along with the calipers that had caused the problem in the first place, I was tempted to stress about the unexpected expense.

But as I continued to circle the parking lot, I realized that stopping four times had allowed the brakes too cool off, likely sparing me from real disaster. And in spite of myself, I had heeded the nudges telling me that something was very wrong. As I continued to walk, I said to myself matter-of-factly—and out loud, “I think my life is worth $600 today.” Then I laughed with a snort at the ridiculousness of that understatement, feeling my frustration and anxiety depart on the echoes of my laughter.

When I returned home, the contrast of driving without any drag or resistance felt exhilarating. I accelerated with ease and merged confidently with the fast moving traffic, enjoying the rush of freedom as I sped down the interstate. For sure, the newness of the brakes had exacerbated the problem. But how long had I been driving with the old brakes dragging on my car? Quite a while, I suspected.

Hearing only the hum of the engine in my otherwise silent car, I began to consider how many times I have put the brakes on my own acceleration. Then I wondered how often I had tried to barrel forward at full speed, failing to notice the effort and force of will required to counteract my own resistance.

Most of us would never drive a car with the brakes on—well, at least not on purpose. So how had I duped myself into believing that the road I am traveling has to include this type of struggle?

The irony is that in trying to get up to speed, the person I am trying to catch up to is me. I seem to be simultaneously calling myself forward—and unwittingly pulling myself myself back. Call me crazy, but it’s much easier to drive at 75mph without the brakes on…safer too.

With this very thought, while speeding effortlessly down the highway, I felt something lift in my own resistance. The tether dragging me back broke free. And in that moment, I relished the thrill and freedom of moving forward at full speed.

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