There’s nothing like a learning something new to show you the truth about yourself.
Long-time readers may recall a post entitled, “What To Do When You Feel Like Giving Up.” It’s the story of how, last July, I faced the challenge of learning to water-ski. This year, I have to say: water-skiing ain’t got nothin’ on learning to drive a stick-shift. (Even though we’ve moved to Alabama, I don’t talk like that. Yet.)
Learning stick-shift has been like traveling back in time — once again, I am 16, and I have no idea how to drive a car. My first ‘lesson’ with my husband was sensory overload, with so many decisions to make. But after our third lesson, I was making significant progress, and we decided that I was ready to start driving around town.
Everything was going well … that is, until I missed 3rd gear and shifted directly from 2nd into overdrive. (Driving tip: Never, ever do this.)
The car made a terrible noise. The smell of burned rubber wafted in. I pulled over, shaken, but I got back on the road, determined. And I was doing better, shifting successfully from 2nd to 3rd. But then I stalled at a stoplight. I took a breath and tried again. Another stall. Why wasn’t the truck cooperating?
The truck, as it turns out, was doing all it could, since it was still in 3rd gear. (I’d forgotten to shift back to 1st.) Suddenly, it was all too much. I imagined people laughing as they drove by; I hated reinforcing a stereotype about women who can’t drive. And my husband — my strong, smart, patient husband — he probably thought I was a total ditz. “Could you drive us home?” I asked, my voice small.
Tears of shame started pouring down my face as we switched seats.
Where was my tenacious spirit? In that moment, I couldn’t find it. But I was given grace to see something even more valuable: the depth of my husband’s love. He wasn’t judging me at all, even when I was judging myself. And he didn’t give up on me, even when I was ready to give up on myself.
That helped me to do the next right thing, which was to be kind to myself for the rest of the day. I made the radical decision to tend to my body, mind, and spirit as though they belonged to a beloved friend from L’Arche (a faith-based non-profit where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together).
I turned on the Olympics and pretended that I was watching them with Theresa* (she would have loved the gymnastics as much as I did). I clipped my nails as though they were Leo’s; I prayed for help as though I was Pedro: with gusto. I started feeling better. And doing these things helped me to remember: I didn’t get impatient with my friends when they were learning. I only got impatient on the (rare) occasions when they didn’t try.
I told myself, Honey, you don’t have to be perfect just yet. You just have to try.
Moreover, living at L’Arche taught me the importance of letting go of expectations — what seems like it ‘should’ be easy for someone to learn may, in fact, be very difficult for them. We are complex beings; just because we can remember the biographies of every President and First Lady doesn’t necessarily mean we can wash up by ourselves, for example. And in my case, learning to drive a stick-shift was going to require a little extra time.
The next day, I called my friend Tammy. She’s the brilliant designer behind both my books, someone I trust with my greatest joys and my deepest sorrows. I summoned my courage and told her about my driving fiasco. In turn, she told me about a time when she’d stalled again and again while trying to drive a stick-shift car off a campsite … in front of lots of people she knew.
Really? I said. Really, she replied.
I felt tremendous relief, hearing her admission. Telling a story that says, ‘I’ve been there,’ is one of the most powerful gifts we have to give. If Tammy, one of the most capable people I know, had had trouble driving stick … then perhaps I could forgive myself for struggling.
As we hung up, I thought of Anne Lamott’s lines in Traveling Mercies: “I tell you, families are definitely the training ground for forgiveness. At some point you pardon the people in your family for being stuck together in all their weirdness, and when you can do that, you can learn to pardon anyone. Even yourself, eventually. It’s like learning to drive on an old car with a tricky transmission: if you can master shifting gears on that, you can learn to drive anything.”
This afternoon, I’ll be driving to yoga, and I have a feeling it’s going to go well … both in the driving and in the sense of forgiving myself for needing ‘extra’ time to learn.
After all, I’ve been practicing.
What challenges are you facing this summer? Join the conversation in the comments!
- A very big thank you to everyone who voted for A Wish Come Clear in the Bloggers for Good Challenge! We ranked in the top 20 (from among nearly 60 contestants). Thank you again for your votes!
- I was honored to be a guest at Autism Live! with Shannon Penrod this past Tuesday. To listen to our interview, click here.
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*Names have been changed.