Coping With One of Life's Challenges: Car Trouble

I am in the throes of car trouble.

It may occur in the form of a visual attack via a glaring, sinister red panel light. The announcement may come through an auditory assailment: Verbalized in the characteristic groaning of gears, the language of machinery gone awry. Or, quite possibly, it may be revealed through an all out olfactory assault as the noxious odors of overheated metals and toxic fluids permeate the air. In all of this evidence lies one inescapable truth --- I am in the throes of car trouble.

Those two little words, car and trouble, when used in conjunction incite within me powerful emotional reactions. Immobilizing fears surface in the realization that I must deal with the issue at hand. As a single female parent, whose knowledge of automobile repairs might barely fill the inside of a matchbook cover and whose income falls just shy of the poverty line, it is actually reasonable to expect some sort of inner turmoil. There are important decisions to be made. Whom can I trust? Does there exist, anywhere, an honest mechanic? Will my checking account have sufficient funds? Nightmarish visions of juggling bags of groceries on the public transport system begin to plague me. Feelings of anxiety emerge and my thoughts begin to race.

Soon my overactive imagination prevails as I contemplate my dilemma. I find myself consumed with my musings, each scenario gaining in absurdity and severity. I conjure up images of itemized repair bills as long as my arm, offered to me by a dashing auto mechanic wearing a dazzling grin. His beaming smile--reminiscent of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland -- appears to resonate with honesty; however, upon closer inspection, something in his eyes discloses his true nature. He is the wolf in sheep's clothing found in Aesop's Fables. The bill he hands me will require the relinquishment of my car's title to him in order to avoid debtor's prison. I shudder as his evil laughter pierces the air.

Immediately on the wings of this fanciful scene comes yet another. I now foresee myself and my children huddled together in a desert clearing somewhere just outside of Tucson. It is a cold, clear winter's night. The sky is a velvety black expanse jeweled with radiant pinpoints of light. We are warming ourselves before a waning fire after having shared in a repast of canned pork and beans. My burgundy Ford Tempo looms large and foreboding in the background: The source of our financial demise. It serves now as our shelter as I can no longer afford both housing and auto repairs. We are forever strapped with the burden of keeping this vehicle road worthy. There is simply no way out...

After some time, my mental melodramas fade away and, with them, fade some of my fears. My wild imaginings enable me to laugh at an otherwise frustrating circumstance and I find that I am now ready to face reality.

My last true car repair, one of an ever-growing series, involved a leaking gas tank and a rather average looking auto mechanic. Much to my relief, I searched and found no hidden, ominous agenda lurking in his eyes. He patiently explained the details of both the worst and best case scenarios. The worst case would involve a cracked gas tank and a hefty but manageable savings account withdrawal. The best case amounted to the replacement of a part that carried a price tag of only one dollar and thirty nine cents. There was a darker side to the best case, however. Due to the location of the part in the vehicle, the labor portion of the bill would be eighty times the amount of the actual replacement part. This troubled me slightly but what choice did I have? I left my car with him and waited out the afternoon, busying myself with some of life's other details.

When next I spoke with the mechanic, I was elated. It turned out to be the O-seal at the top of the tank and the original estimate was going to be the actual cost. Never before in my previous experiences with dreaded auto mechanics had the best case scenario prevailed. I felt that I had been granted a stay of financial execution! My children and I could remain sheltered... at least until the next car repair. I thanked him genuinely and profusely and marveled that I may have just discovered the last honest mechanic known to mankind.

Life's circumstances can prove to be valuable lessons in self-discovery when I allow that awareness. Out of this reflection, I realize that life is truly what I choose to make of it through my own thoughts, beliefs and perceptions. I can take an inevitable, simple situation such as car trouble and magnify it beyond all reason thereby allowing the problem to control me, or I can choose to view it in a more realistic light which permits mastery of the problem and my reactions to it.



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