I vacillate daily between a belief that the universe sends me important signs in everything—that butterfly that just landed on my car when I want good news, and the fork breaking before I got food poisoning—and a certainty that there’s no one true meaning, thus all that matters is what you make of experience that counts. Okay, and I indulge in the occasional puddle of self pity that everything is hopeless, usually cured in 5-7 days or with a nice big helping of dark chocolate.
Nonetheless, I pay attention when things happen in clusters.
Like recently, while under a pressured writing deadline that I expected, which grew nearly unbearable when it was layered upon by another, unexpected one (a result of oversight), my car died in the Starbucks parking lot and I had to call my friend Amy to rescue me.
And then, a week after that, with my shoulders, fingers and brain still in the spasms of deadline, my tire went flat, and I had to call my friend Amy to rescue me again.
And then, because I was distracted and running on autopilot, I almost took my back passenger car door off its hinges backing out of my garage and I had to call my friend Kristy, and disappoint my son and his friend that we couldn’t go to gymnastics because Mommy’s car door wouldn’t close.
When I nearly did major damage to my car, I was busy grumbling to myself about something petty, muttering aloud like someone off their meds, and didn’t notice that my son’s young friend hadn’t shut his door—his heavy car door that an adult should have shut for him.
You could say that these are all just coincidences borne of having a car, cars having a tendency to require upkeep and maintenance. (Funny enough, so do bodies). Or you could say—rightly so—that I had stopped paying attention. I was too busy. I was overwhelmed. I was under deadline.
My car had had difficulty starting for over a month but I never took it in or bought a new battery. Similarly, my body, particularly my “bad hip” was in a horrific flare that made both standing and sitting an agony of hot knots but I didn’t have time for yoga or swimming.
The shop that fixed my car after it died mentioned that my front tires were all but shot—time for new ones. I didn’t listen until a nail punctured both the rubber and my bubble of denial. Unrepairable, the shop said.
In each instance, I waited too long or ignored the signs. Sometimes signs are not mystical messages delivered on the backs of spiritual unicorns—sometimes they are actual, tangible things like cars that won’t start and hips that won’t stop hurting. And you’re supposed to be paying attention to them, whether you believe in a Higher Power that wants this for you, or you accept that without care, cars and bodies just don’t last forever.
When we continue on auto-pilot, we are likely to crash. I see this “blinders-on” lack of attention all the time. Anyone who has ever parked or walked in a Trader Joes’ parking lot knows what I mean: pedestrians walk with entitled certainty that all vehicles in motion, no matter how fast, blind spots be damned, will magically stop. I see it in myself when a person has checked out my groceries and taken my payment and only upon completing the transaction and gathering my bags do I stop to make eye contact, to say “thank you.”
Sometimes it’s hard to do triage on the many things screaming loudly for a piece of your mind and body. In fact, paying attention takes effort, and it’s easy to stop making that effort because of all the other efforts crowding around like brokers on the Wall Street trading floor. It’s easy to get lost in the whirlwind moment and ignore things that will need attention simply because the worst hasn’t happened yet.
I prefer to avoid the worst case scenario.
I choose to see these incidents with my car as reminders that most of those worst case scenarios can be prevented, to go a little slower, take a few cleansing breaths between deadlines and appointments. Stretch my damn hip. Pay better attention.
Photo credit: “Open Road” by Jake Przespo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.