This morning I noticed that the color of the woods are slowly turning as the leaves offer their first hint that season’s change is coming soon. A few days ago a new fawn joined the family of deer that enjoy an evening snack outside our door. And last week I drove to the Lowe’s in Waynesboro all by myself.
That’s a bigger deal than you think.
Like any sixteen-year-old growing up in rural Pennsylvania I loved the freedom that having my drivers license represented. But I don’t know that I ever loved driving. It was a skill I needed if I wanted to get from home to Becky’s house, or choir rehearsal, or to Bake Oven Knob. I was never afraid of driving but it was less of a joy and more of a necessary chore. It always made me a little nervous.
I didn’t become afraid of driving until four years ago when my black Honda CRV, with me behind the wheel, was rammed from behind at a red light and totaled on Oregon Expressway just a minute away from my former home in Palo Alto. After that accident, an accident in which I was not injured, being in a car left me hyper-vigilant, white knuckled and close to panic. It was almost tolerable when I was behind the wheel but deepened when I was a passenger. Behind the wheel I had some control. As a passenger all control was relinquished.
This fear had a huge and controlling impact on my life. I missed art exhibits in San Francisco I was desperate to see. I turned down party invitations and gatherings with friends. I said ‘no’ to going to the movies. I avoided almost every event where driving was involved even when my heart wanted something different. But to go anywhere required time for me to prepare mentally.
There were exceptions, of course. A two-hour drive with a friend to attend an art workshop was doable because I had time to talk myself down from the edge. I had support from my friend who commiserated with my fear and who assured me that the SUV she was driving was an indestructible tank. And then there was the drive Ben and I made up the Pacific coast to Sea Ranch. The deep anxiety I experienced navigating the twisty, fog shrouded road on the final leg of our journey there was the price I paid for an exceptionally beautiful weekend on the sunlit ocean’s edge.
But this was no way to live. I was determined to leave my fear behind in California. I was not going to allow my fear of driving to control my life in Virginia.
About a month ago I made my first trip to the Harris Teeter Market two miles down Rockfish Gap from our new home. And even though when I leave Harris Teeter I have to make a left hand turn onto what can sometimes be a somewhat busy two-lane road, I survived. I’ve been going to Harris Teeter a few times a week ever since. Even when we don’t need anything. Just for the practice.
My next challenge arrived ten days ago when Ben needed to catch the train to DC. He offered to Uber to the station but I insisted we take the car. I wanted the challenge of navigating my way home. I could do that. Or I could shake off a little fear. I chose the latter and set Waze for the nearest Whole Foods. And again, I survived. I also survived two days ago when his train arrived back in Charlottesville and I was there to meet him. I can’t remember the last time I was there to meet Ben after a business trip. I didn’t know how much I missed doing that.
Remember when you were sixteen and you passed your drivers test? That’s how going to Whole Foods, doing the food shopping and then driving the twenty minutes home felt to me. That’s how finding my way to the train station felt. That’s how going to Dollar General and then all the way to Waynesboro felt. Such simple, ordinary things. Still, it was as if someone was handing me the literal car key to my freedom. That someone was me.
I still have some ways to go. I haven’t driven to Charlottesville ‘proper’ or navigated finding parking near the Pedestrian Mall. But I know that I will. There are too many things I want to do. Too many experiences I no longer want to put on hold.
Do you have a fear you’ve been trying to shake? What steps could you take to begin letting go of that fear?