It’s that time again.
The weight of summer heat is lifting, and the wind is whispering the first signs of fall. It’s this way for me every year, and I’ve come to expect the breathless moments that come quickly, undeniably, and often with a hunger that can’t be satiated.
I was 17, maybe 18 when it began.
My father bought an old MGA from a newspaper ad, and began to restore it to it’s original splendor, which was quite a feat considering that it had been sitting in a barn for a few decades. It wasn’t much to look at, at least not initially.
But then again, most of our best lessons come from realizing we’ve used the wrong scale to measure value, don’t they?
It was a convertible, and the torn leather seats smelled of age and memories we would never know. He sat in it and I watched him breathe it in. At the time I didn’t know what he was breathing in, but I do now.
When you were leaving our neighborhood, you could turn right and head into the main part of town. Littered with restaurants, grocery stores, hair salons and the chaos of life, it was convenient in a necessary kind of way.
But if you turned left, you would quickly end up on a winding road that felt like something out of a movie. For miles and miles there was nothing to see except trees that were towered tall and broad with invitation.
It wasn’t an easy car to drive. In the fifties they weren’t making luxury sport cars the way they do now. It was physically difficult to turn the steering wheel, and the clutch was short and unforgiving. The reverse on the stick shift was displaced from what I was used to, and it took me awhile to adjust.
When the first leaves began to fall, I took it out.
Left. I always turned left.
And about a mile down the road, with the music as loud as I could stand it, I felt like I could breathe. I mastered the clutch, intoxicated by how responsive it was-my bare feet balancing the pedals while crimson and rust-colored leaves fell by the dozens.
Hair all around me and not a single way anyone could reach me.
I whipped the corners while the tears raced back toward my ears and my eyes stung from the speed.
I could feel my fingers, sweaty on the leather-wrapped wheel while the sun splotched the road ahead of me, understanding freedom from a depth I couldn’t convey to anyone.
Even now I can’t explain it.
But I’m hungry for it. Aching for it.
Eventually the road returns home, and life carries on. Dinner plates clanging on tables and papers to be sorted while the bath water runs. My suitcase lies empty on the bed, waiting for me to pack my beautiful clothes again, and I am grateful for the noises and the faces.
But when the wind starts to stir the grass and I catch myself staring out the window, I wonder if I’m the only one who ever wants to inhale the hours until the blood rushes again.
I find it still; I have to.
I know the way to the grocery store, the hotel lobby, and the reassuring glow of civil and gentle life.
And I live my days turning to the right, smiling and embracing all the goodness that lies there.
In my honest moments, though, I’ll tell you that I’m a girl who can’t live without the left, the wind-stung face and the roar of third gear at it’s limit just before fourth while I laugh because no one can hear me.
So if ever you should notice me staring wistfully into the distance, you’ll know why.
If you catch a look in my eye that doesn’t fit the pretty boundaries sketched out for me, or even in the event that I slip out of the room for a moment to let dusk sit on my skin-you’ll understand.
And you might even see me one day, sitting perfectly still in a car, breathing in that which was made to be more powerful than beautiful and more driven than displayed.
I suppose you could say I understand the value in that now.
It’s hard to resist the opportunity every now and then to flee-just for an hour or so-and let the roads remind me truths that often lie dormant in dinner parties and on stages.
Face flushed, heart pounding, ears ringing from it all-and summer gives way to fall again.
This life is only meant to be displayed and controlled to the extent that it glorifies God, but sometimes we get so lost in the logic that we forget what it sounds like to race against the nightfall. I know, because I’ve done it.
My fingers reach far above my head, reaching for the sweaters I packed away for them last year. As the box tumbles and they all spill out, I can’t help but smile.
I will dress them, comb their hair, and hang their dresses, yes.
But I will use the same hands that gripped the wheel, pulled the gearshift, and turned the volume all the way to the tip-top.
One day I’ll teach them how to drive.
And then I’ll watch them pulling left, wild with anticipation, and I’ll smile, knowing the truth of it all.
It’s the road that will teach them how to live.