I grew up in New York City and did not learn to drive until I was twenty-seven.  Growing up, it was easy to get around the city using mass transit.  If our family needed a car, my parents rented or borrowed one.

In my late twenties, I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area.  My girlfriend, a native Californian who drove at sixteen, announced she was tired of being a chauffeur.  It was time for me to get a driver’s license.  Of course, she was right. 

I learned quickly and obtained my license.  Soon, I bought a used car, a fire engine red Volvo named Hubert.  It was love at first sight.  But the seller lived in San Francisco, and I lived in Berkeley.  As I had never driven on the highway, I worried about getting the car home.  I called a friend and he agreed to drive the car if I needed help. 

I picked up the car and drove around the city on roads that required greater speed.  I was nervous about getting on the highway.  But I resolved to do it.  On the bridge, I recalled thinking that driving was the adult equivalent of learning to walk.  My mobility extended infinitely.  With my own car, I really could go anywhere, anytime I chose.  I arrived home with a line of sweat from elbow to waist.  I was elated and called everyone I could think of to tout my supreme achievement.

Afterwards, I decided to take a trip to a favorite park.  In my own car.  It was a gorgeous late August afternoon, warm, sunny, and clear, with the scent of eucalyptus in the air.  I parked the car and began to hike, grinning from ear to ear. 

But as I walked, my elation waned like a disappearing Cheshire cat.  A sudden and unexpected melancholy set in.  I was bewildered.  I sat under a tree to figure it all out.  After a while, I understood. My wonderful accomplishment, learning how to drive and purchasing a car, meant I no longer needed anyone to drive me anywhere. Now, I was responsible for getting myself around.  It was up to me. This bittersweet insight revealed something important. In this moment, I became more fully adult. 

I returned to the car and sat behind the steering wheel. And I thanked Hubert for being such a valuable teacher. I felt certain he had more to show me.

There is a wise saying from the East:  when the student is ready, the teacher will come.  Life wisdom has many sources, including fire engine red Volvos. We just need to keep our eyes and ears open. Can you identify your important teachers?  How did they impact the course of your life, shaping who you are today?

Categories: This Ordinary Life

Image of Neal Aponte

Neal Aponte

Neal Aponte is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 30 years of experience providing psychotherapy for adults, adolescents and children. Read more here.