Thursday, April 29, 2010

Van Attachment

I have a complicated relationship with my eight-year-old minivan. Every time I see her I see myself.

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."


sarah at secret housewife said...

Interesting! When I bought my new car - a little yellow Ford Ka I promised myself that I would care for it and not allow the boys ( or myself) to fill it with detritus. So far so good. I love my little car and in it I feel happy.It is clean and sweet smelling - a far cry from my old rust heap!
Does this mean you are no longer filled with french fries and left over kids meals??Are you going to do the 5k?? S

Kelly Hudgins said...

I'm still up in the air about the 5K...I have plenty of time to decide. A lot will depend on this summer. It's soooooooo hot here so I suspect my treadmill will have to bear the brunt of any training I do. And it's often close to 100 degrees on the day of the 5K.

So far we're keeping the van clean. Almost two weeks!

Savvy Navigator said...

I loved this entry — as always, well written and it’s great to see you blogging again. I find that bringing order to one simple aspect of my life often starts a wave that bleeds over into other areas. For example, when I clean up my usually-clutttered office (full disclosure: “cluttered“ by JW/Michaelklein standards), I find that I have greater clarity in other aspects of my life. I’m more focused when I work and I the annoying crap elsewhere in life that usually gets me, doesn’t.

Kelly Hudgins said...

Thanks for stopping by, SavNav! I'm hoping to see the same kind of carryover inside the house soon.

Bettye Leigh said...

Driving a van requires a studied paradigm shift, my friend. What might be an insult to a friend with an Audi takes on a lilting, musical, backhanded compliment-like quality. The first time SavvyNavigator drove Daddio's green van with both boys in it all the way from the airport to Sherman, he said, "Hmmm. Now I see why people buy these things." See? You just have to THINK differently. And your kids get to the point where they aren't embarrassed anymore and begin to say sweetish things, like the one I heard yesterday from older progeny: "Mom, this van is immaculate compared to my friends' moms' cars."
Nice post, dahling.

Kelly Hudgins said...

BL, Thanks for the visit. Young Girl is pretty immune to the van (and I think its dirtiness helped our immune systems, he he he). I, on the other hand, had finally had enough.