“Are you a lifelong learner? An autodidact? Then, friend, let me introduce you to a smashing new self-guided curriculum, guaranteed to transport you, if not all the way to a bright new world, then surely to a higher road of thinking. Enrollment is open, and no sign-up fee is required, although a valid driver’s license is recommended. Once the wheels start turning and you begin your journey of discovery you may change tracks as often as you wish and cut any corners you deem restrictive; in fact, the more experimental you are as you steer your way past the mile markers of this program, the more quickly you will accelerate toward your own veritable pileup of learning opportunities. Graduate with honors—you hold the key!”
I signed up for this course of study in August, on the day of my big car wreck. Was it an accident? No. I didn’t have a death wish nor did I intend to have a collision any more than the other unlucky driver did, but now two months away from that messy intersection, I am able to see that it was a run-in with purpose, far from accidental, at least in the larger sense. I can say that because, thankfully, no one involved in the crash was transported to a bright new world—unless you count Camry, my car, who went directly to junkyard heaven.
I covered a lot of ground in the first spinout of foundation classes. I aced “Shock & Disbelief.” I tested out of “Guilt 101” and went straight into “Advanced Remorse.” “Self-Recrimination” came so easily to me that I repeated it—thought it might make my GPA rock solid—and the second time through I even wore a hairshirt for extra credit.
My next round of lessons was less instinctive and required more concentration. In “Impact Theory” I examined the possible causes that lead to the crash: my own inattention and fatigue; the other driver’s speed, lack of caution, and possible kid-distraction. In “Survey of the Offended, the Onlooking, and the Official” I got a three-way look at the dynamics of Suburban-driving mothers and their deployed airbags, ambivalent witnesses, and cold-shouldered cops. I took a rather expensive one-morning seminar entitled “The Monetary Methodology of Judicial Courts in Mormon Pioneer Towns.” All of these were terribly enlightening.
I balanced my curriculum with a fitness program. Companion classes “You’ve Got a Flat” and “The Spare’s Right There” were perfect to take concurrently. One helped me build endurance as I pinpointed weaknesses revealed by the accident. The other helped me relax as I identified some of my strengths. I had the same great teacher for both and that helped me synthesize the concepts I learned and set healthy goals.
I had an unexpected opportunity to participate in a field study, “Applications of Empathy,” one day when an accident similar to mine happened nearby. I’m not sure if the experience will ultimately count toward the credits I need to graduate, but it helped me realize that I was mobilizing my intentions and energies with greater effectiveness; I was actually getting someplace with this education.
It was tough tackling the upper division class “Consequences.” I had to revisit some of the challenging feelings I thought I’d studied and put to rest earlier on. I measured current effects and conceptualized future repercussions of shifting my family from a one-car to a no-car lifestyle. I calculated the cost of carelessness and insufficient insurance. I made it through that rough study, only to be confronted by the last and most complex course of my carless career, the class that would hopefully culminate in my graduation—”Options: To Drive or Not to Drive? That Is the Question.”
It didn’t sound too difficult at first; I believed I could steer through the lesson quickly, like the others, but I was wrong. I stalled out over options. The natural question: “How are we going to replace our car?” was broad-sided by: “Should we replace our car?” The forced slowness of walks in the sun helped to clear my mind; options crystallized, grouping and regrouping themselves into different camps: Appearance & Social Expectation, Convenience, Perceived Vs. Actual Needs, and Social Responsibility. I doubt this is an exhaustive list. My specific concerns showed up in various camps and contexts: debt, freedom, approval from others, exercise, independence vs. interdependence, environmental impact, speed, simplicity, health & activity, emergency preparedness, pride, priorities, energy consumption, exposure to weather, self-reliance, status, lifestyle, impulsivity, public transit, proximity, and so on. What to do?
Here’s the potentially frustrating thing: this isn’t a finished story. I don’t have a new, used, or even leased car yet. Will I? Probably sometime in my life—maybe soon, maybe not. For the time being, I am self-propelled. Does this uncertainty spoil my recommendation of this crash course in self-discovery? Don’t let it. It’s not my job, thankfully, to tell you what to drive, how many, how often, how well, or even if you should drive. There’s no one-transport-fits-all answer anyway and if there was, I’d probably not be the one telling you about it. Here’s my point: the most important wheels you’ll ever set in motion will be the ones in your head that lead you to examine your experiences, question your beliefs, and challenge the culture of your society. If you work with the right teacher you’ll come up with solutions that will get you successfully where you want to go, along a higher road. And if you ever find yourself on foot, sorting out your thoughts, let’s go for a walk together.
What kinds of “courses” are you currently taking? What are you learning?