I hadda work on my car yesterday.
I was really good at car repair as a teenager. Growing up, I had a ’79 Impala; it was one of my most treasured possessions. It went real fast and it was comfortable, too. Part of what made it comfortable, of course, was that it was a total dump; thus, you weren’t bashful about getting it dirty.
But I digress. It was a kewl car, and I learned volumes about how cars work because of it.
In the years after, I just made habit of throwing my car in the shop when it broke. This was partially because I once made a lot of money. It was also because time spent on car maintenance would cut into my quality drinking time.
I don’t make a ton of money anymore. Nor do I drink, except for perhaps the occasional dinnertime beer. Thus, yesterday I found myself in the front yard with a bucket of tools and some parts. (I am a plumber by trade. Plumbers always keep their tools in buckets. That way if they flood out their workspace, their tools don’t get rusty. I’ve flooded lots of rooms.)
But I digress. Again.
Anyhoo, I hadda change my front brake pads, and the front passenger rotor. A rotor is this steel plate thingie that the brake pads grab, which subsequently makes the car slow down. I had forgotten about my brake pads for a little too long, and they wore out and started cutting grooves into the rotor. This is bad.
Anyway, I bought everything I needed first thing Saturday morning. Brake pads… check. Brake fluid… check. Brake cleaner…. check. Caliper spreader… check. Rotor…. check. Anti-squeal lubricant… check. All set!
Uh-huh. It’d be nice if life always worked out like that, yes?
Everything came apart just fine, until I hit the lower caliper bolt. Whatever dingdong changed the brakes last (and that darn sure wasn’t me!) stripped out the torx head on the bolt. Translation: That stupid thing wasn’t coming off. Ever. Not for love nor money, and nothing I could do would make it. Liquid Wrench? Nope. Vise Grips? Uh-uh. That stupid things simply was not moving.
That was on the driver side. On the passenger side, the Unnamed Dingdong struck again, because I hit the exact same problem on the exact same bolt. I swear he did it on purpose!
To make a long story short (although I have never been known for brevity) I would up changing only the brake shoes, because they can be changed without removing that particular bolt. The rotor wound up remaining unchanged; it wasn’t so badly scored that I couldn’t clean the burrs off with a wire brush, and keep using it. I cleaned up my mess, had my long-suffering saint of a mother help me bleed the air out of the lines, and presto! All done.
Years ago I learned that my character has an ugly side, a button that is so easy to push. If you defy me – if you deliberately set yourself up to act at cross purposes with me – I have the potential to snap. Or, which more often happened, to foster a deep-seated hatred toward you. My attitude was, how dare you cross me? I’ll crush you! A great many have even tried to help me over the years, and would up being regarded as enemies because they didn’t pander to my self-centered desires of the moment.
I say this because during those frustrating car-fixin’ moments, this latent trait comes to the surface. That stubborn bolt? Years back, that would have spawned a tirade of profanity, tool-chucking and foul invective. How dare the car not bend to my supreme will?!
Believe it or not, I actually got through the whole afternoon without a murmur of anger – despite the sweat, grease, and my finger that smashed so perfectly between the caliper and the rotor.
I suspect that somewhere along the line, I learned to shift my focus of control. Not sure when, to be honest with you. My car broke; could help that. I hadda fix it; couldn’t help that, either. In years past, these trivial vagaries of happenstance would have led to frustration and anger. Yet this time… they didn’t. Why? Nothing’s changed. My life, if anything, is more frustrating than it’s ever been. I have more on my plate, more to do, and more to worry about than ever before. And yet I don’t fuss about it very much. Why?
Somehow I learned that I will never control my life, so much as I will forever spend ninety percent of my time simply responding to what happens to me. One can only be so proactive with one’s existence; life is, I think, more often than not simply reactive in nature.
Apparently, I have learned simply to let go.
I can only assume so much control over my career. I can only influence my relationships so much. I can only fix so many problems, and avert so many disasters. I can only summon so much energy with which to change my circumstances. My will to thrive is defined only within the scope of my ability to react to outside stimuli.
And that’s okay.
Because the one constant, always, is me. I have chosen to follow the teachings and precepts of Christ, but even He refuses to violate my free will. I can’t help that my brakes went bad. I can’t help that the bolts wouldn’t come loose. I couldn’t help that it was hot out, or that I had to lie in brake fluid. I couldn’t help my own inability to change the rotor.
I couldn’t help any of those things; they were all chosen for me.
What I did control was my own temptation to anger. I controlled my impulse to grouse and fume and holler. I controlled my mood, my peace of mind. I controlled my each and every reaction to a situation that would have once supremely irritated me.
But every single thought, every single word, and every single action that comes from me… is mine. If anything rattles my peace of mind, it can only come from me; it will not be something around me. My gut instincts may be negative in nature, but I control those, too.
The irony is, in letting go of my desperate need to control my surroundings as opposed to my responses, my world has improved immeasurably. What is what will be, and I refuse to waste any more mental energy fretting about any of it.
I used to dread turning thirty; I thought that was the beginning of the end. And in a sense, it is, because in another thirty years I’ll be older than dirt.
But that’s okay. If I’d known that the scatter-brained, emotional hell of my twenties would eventually fade, I would have welcomed the idea of turning thirty. I’ve lived long enough to be okay with the idea that life sucks – and in a twisted sort of way, that makes life suck a whole lot less.
Youth is characterized by passion, by the driving need to control one’s environment order to achieve maximum comfort.
Maturity, however…. is defined by placidly working with the environment in which one finds himself.
I’ll take the latter, any day.