She's silver-grey, like an overcast sky or a rock road. Perfect camouflage, her color renders her invisible. Her body's not what it used to be, either, missing a big piece of trim and sporting hail stone pockmarks. There's that scrape from the misjudged turn, another from the Starbucks drive-through, yet another from a tree. I won't catalogue the dents, but they're noticeable and plural. One sliding door is broken and the other is recalcitrant and the repair costs are way too high for such luxuries.
For a long time I took pride in my van. She was very fancy when brand new, and among the cars of Oregon she gleamed. When we moved to Texas and I found myself invisible in the carpool line between a Hummer and a Porsche, I felt superior to the materialists who somehow needed a fancy carapace. I wasn't like that, you see. I was perfectly happy with my utilitarian, reliable transportation (and my Birkenstocks and jeans, but that's another story....or is it?). My van rendered me anonymous in a new community, free to observe the landscape, able to move stealthily through the new environment.
Her inside began to resemble her outside. Old French fries, kid meal toys, multiple water bottles in various stages of consumption, a gaggle of empty coffee cups, school papers, books, receipts....they all piled up between my ever less frequent trips to the car wash. I took a perverse pride in this, too. She was lived-in. I could always find something to drink. And why bother cleaning her out only to have her fill up again in a week?
But slowly I began to resent her. She was certainly not the car I'd planned to be driving when I was 50. And when four of five women in my core group of friends bought lovely new vehicles in an 18 month period I found myself with a raging case of new car fever. I had grand thoughts. I researched comfort, foreign and domestic. The van was an embarrassment, an old aunt who'd "let herself go." But a new car wasn't in the budget. As The Man reminded me, she was paid for, ran well, and had a long shelf life. I began to think of her as The Van that Would Never Die. And now that I've just paid for a major service and a new timing belt, I know she's - unfortunately - perfectly healthy.
Some of you know about my stumbling attempts at meditation and Buddhism. I understand that attachment leads to suffering. And this is certainly true when it comes to my van. The perverse pride I took in her ordinariness and invisibility was merely a cover for insecurity in a new environment and led me into disorder. The resentment I feel toward her serves no purpose other than to make me feel bad and desire something for which I have no need.
So I'm trying to break my attachment to my van and to treat her mindfully. I cleaned everything out and visited the car wash. I'm making sure that both Young Girl and I take out everything we put in and leave only minimal supplies (soccer ball, lap desk, notebook paper) inside. I would not say that I'm taking pride in my clean van or feeling particularly noble about my efforts. I'm simply trying to make my van part of my practice.
So far, so good.
For a wonderful look at practice in everyday life, whatever your faith tradition, pick up a copy of Karen Maezen Miller's new book "hand wash cold: care instructions for an ordinary life."