“When you feel yourself breaking down, may you break open instead.” Elizabeth Lesser
Greetings Dear Ones!
For those of you who have never ridden in a commercial tow truck fully dressed in 18th Century clothing, let me just say, you are really missing out! You must try it some time. For a start, one is treated very differently than if one is dressed as the average Wall-mart shopper. You will find yourself handled with the perfect blend of benevolence, humor, and gently affirming pity you have been seeking from all the wrong people your entire life. They will smile and call you ma’am a lot. They will find you adorable and quaint, even when you are tired and crabby. The driver may even feel compelled to tell you his entire life story while he munches on the last of the period-correct wormy looking apples you offer him.
Since this blog is about “Secrets,” may I admit something? Secretly, I Love a good Breakdown. I’m not talking about the average, daily nervous breakdowns where I cannot locate my keys and a bride is waiting for her nine a.m. appointment and I have three minutes to make a seventeen-minute trip. I’m talking about a hood-up, smoking-engine, leave-you-by-the-side-of-the-road-wondering-if-your-AAA-membership-dues-have-been-paid kind of Breakdown. It reminds me of so many things that are good for my soul:
a. I’m not as “in charge of things” as I think I am
b. Anything can change for the better or the worse at any time
c. People who collide with us in these moments are usually amazing teachers, whether they themselves realize it or not, whom we could not have met any other way
d. The harder you hit bottom, the higher you bounce
e. I am here to Learn, Laugh, and Love—the rest is just fodder for the stories around the business of That
I drive a 2006 Subaru Forester which is turning out to be as fickle as a pet cat that has decided it wants to live at the neighbor’s house. Only, this car wants to live at the local Auto Repair Shop downtown with its mechanic friend, Eddy. Lately, it has been giving me fantastic opportunities for the Growth of My Soul—especially on Tuesdays, when my soul does not fancy a growth spurt.
The most recent Opportunity for a Fantastic Breakdown occurs on Saturday, a sparkling but breezy day in Salem, Massachusetts. My inner child is happy that she gets to have play-date with her friends—to dress-up and have a tea party while entertaining Visitors at the National Park Site of the Derby House. We are re-enacting a political protest against the Townshed Acts, demonstrating a 1769 spinning bee that was one of the first “Buy Local” campaigns in this country. Interested visitors stop by from Japan and Idaho and we talk and teach and spin lustrous roving into bobbins full of yarn. But it has been a long afternoon in the sun, and our caps and kerchiefs have argued vigorously with the stiff breeze coming in off the water, leaving our cheeks glowing warmly. My Inner Child is now tired, thirsty, ever so slightly cranky, and wants to go home. We have at least a three-hour ride ahead of us because we have agreed to give a Dear Lady a lift to her home in New Hampshire. She is the renowned authoress of Fitting and Proper (the universally recognized authority on American 18th Century clothing) and the revered Grand Dame, the Matriarch of this event. I can’t believe my luck that I get hours with her in the car, all to myself, to discuss, well, Everything. She is an endless, fascinating Buffet Feast of ideas, history, information, and opinions. But her feet hurt her now and her inner child is as anxious to get home as mine.
We bid farewell to our Charming Hostess, Lady Park Ranger Extraordinare, and set off in our caps and bonnets, the car piled high with spinning wheels and basketry, in search of the nearest gas station. We locate one twelve miles away. (Apparently, the good citizens of Salem have no need of more convenient petrol for their motor vehicles. Perhaps Broomsticks don’t require it?) Once at the station, we realize that I have left my wallet back at the site. Much to my mortification, back we head, on the twelve mile quest for the wallet. Lady Fitting & Proper could not be more gracious. “We just get more time to chat!” she says brightly.
Approximately 30 minutes later, we are back en route, only to rush headlong into stopped traffic. “Yay,” we say with gritty smiles, “More time to chat!” We sweep from century to century--domestic issues, women’s issues, political issues—from Romania to Scotland, from the plight of the Irish in 1850 to the experience of the Ashkenazi Jews post World War II, then back to pottery and why Indigo fracks and leaves your legs blue when you sweat in a new pair of jeans… For the most part, we are oblivious to the traffic beeping and creeping all around us. Where Route 128 meets Route 95 North, we decide that heading quickly in the Slightly Wrong Direction will be more fun than being at a stand-still in the Right Direction, so we head north with speed and relief. Later, we decide to take a small country road west to cut over to 93 North, the road we really want to be on—as we are now heading too close to the coast. It is a beautiful day and we agree that country roads are definitely the Way to Go. We appreciate and comment on center chimneys, timber framing, lintels and mullions and the vestiges of 18th Century we architecture we discern as we pass through a series of Classic New England country vignettes. In the center of one of these little Christmas Cards in summer, we roll to a stop at a light and the engine dies. There is a vague smell of something burning. The local citizenry of New Hampshire begin honking their horns and zooming past us in frustration when the light turns green for a second time. I get out and lift the hood and flash the hazard lights.
It immediately occurs to me that we cannot underestimate the role of clothing in these pageants. Being stranded by the side of the road in clothing from the 1760’s has as much impact on the plot as watching an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” performed in 1920’s attire. Had we been dressed in furry flip-flops and baggy, stained T-shirts—or pin-striped business suits, who knows what might have happened next? Clothing plays an enormous role in how we are interpreted and treated by others. “Whatsa-matta lady? Lose your horses?” says the passing driver of a pick-up truck who thinks he is the funniest person he’s met all day.
I decide to pretend I am excited about how this trip is turning out—that each new development is a Delightful Surprise, despite its obvious departure from the Script I had envisioned.
The next person stops and gets out. He helps me jump start the car so we can get it off the road. He is extremely helpful, deferential, and polite, though wide-eyed with wondering. “Are ya’ll Amish?” he wants to know.
The next Delightful Surprise is the arrival of a police cruiser. I approach his open window in my dusty cap and gown and say, “Excuse me officer. I’m afraid our Time Machine has broken down. It was set to take us to the Future, where we will be snug in our own houses, putting our feet up and having refreshing cups of cool Mint tea. Unfortunately, it broke down here. And now we are Stuck in This Moment until something changes.” He smirks (but in a kind way) and radios for back-up. “By the way,” I continue, “we are NOT Amish. We are just Perfectly Ordinary people who like to spin wool and talk to tourists.” He looks at my vehicle, packed with spinning wheels and fleece and just nods. “Have you called Triple A?” he wants to know. “Yes, sir,” I have. They are sending someone within the hour.
I find the best Adventures are where we are not just wet but Soaked, not just sad but Miserable, not just happy but Ecstatic—then we know we have Lived through something and get to tell about it later. Each moment in such a drama is an actress’s chance to decide how she will play the scene—a golden opportunity to Define Herself: Will there be tears and melodrama? Or Cool Grace? Hissing, growling, and exposing of middle digits to passersby who shout comments about the lack of horses to these two “Amish” ladies? (We AREN’T AMISH, damn it! Though I kinda wish we were… I would vastly prefer a horse and buggy to this dented hunk of metal steaming vaguely in the haze.)
After an interminable wait in the hot car, during which our dismal choices are open windows, cool air, and Bugs (So many bugs!)—or sealed windows, no air, and no bugs—a taxi and a tow truck arrive simultaneously. The lucky cab driver gets the pleasure of Lady F&P’s conversation and I haul my calico ass up into the cab of the tow truck where I am met with clumps of dog hair and the tales of a Jolly Philosopher whose nickname is “Banana.” His girlfriend’s name is “Monkey.” (I am NOT making this up!) His air conditioner is broken so we eat apples and bugs for the next ninety minutes while he shares his Views on Things. He talks about losing his first wife to a tragic brain bleed and having his second wife throw all his worldly possessions out into the street when she was pissed off with him… “Women are tricky…” he says, shaking his head. He looks at the road for a mile and then announces “but anyone who ever loved me has changed me for the better.”
That’s it. That’s my take-away. That makes the whole trip, the whole breakdown, worth it for that sentence. Monkey is a lucky gal.
At home, finally, I think about the metaphysical journey we are all sharing. There are no fears and no failures worth dwelling in—there are only our Feelings (a.k.a. the Internal GPS), which we must heed as we might heed the rumble strips on the side of the road. These rumble strips signal a lapse in alignment with our true path, that we must make an immediate adjustment. We are not meant to dwell in the breakdown lane—no more than we would drive for miles with the wheels making that awful racket, while saying “oh, let’s just turn the radio up so we can’t hear it. Let’s eat or drink or smoke or slap up our credit cards until that dreadful noise goes away…” No! We simply redirect the vehicle to the center of the road. Nor do we decide to park the car and say, “Well, I guess we live here now!” when we have a breakdown. We know we are not Home; we know we must do what it takes to get ourselves fixed so that we can keep moving forward. This means we must ask for and wait for Help. We must accept what is available. We must be patient and willing to do or pay whatever it takes. Meanwhile, we have the inestimable gifts of Each Other. In these moments, we come to understand our own Willingness to continue the journey. In Surrender, even passengers become Participants. And if we are Dressed Well in clothes of our own making, so much the better!
No matter what happens to us, Life is pretty much how we imagine it to be. The Miracle just keeps evolving and unfolding each day. Sometimes we are on the Right Path and we just break down anyway. Maybe so that we can be reminded about what Love is. And that’s a Very Good Thing. Lucky, lucky us!
Be well, my Darlings! Dress your best, whatever that is. Who knows what adventures await? And May anyone who loves us change us for the better!