Note: Before reading this post, please keep in mind that I fully recognize that the “problems” and struggles I describe are in no way akin to the deep, awful suffering that is running rampart around the globe. Because I feel pretty much completely helpless in the wake of said suffering, I attempt to make the world a more empathic, “equanimous” place by creating equanimity, understanding, and balance in my own internal Self-scape.
The other day, a friend very generously offered to let me borrow his car so that I could drive 21 minutes to Ikea rather than either spending a small fortune on shipping or over three hours on public transit and attempting to drag my purchases with me on the return trip (from past experience, this is a definite recipe for disaster/emotional meltdown).
Side note: I like to think that I am physically stalwart; however, my scrappy attitude only gets me so far when there is heavy, physical lifting to do. The other day when my husband suggested that I allow him to do some heavy lifting and I stubbornly declared that I was strong and did not break easily, he laughed. I think because I am what many would describe as a “big hair, big personality” kind of person, I tend to forget that I am smaller in stature than I am in spirit and intention.
I was over the moon thrilled to be able to have a car at my disposal. I regularly bemoan the challenges of public transit (missing connections; waiting outside in the freezing cold and rain; getting motion sickness on the bus; bus drivers leaving early instead of honoring the timing on the transit app; the fact that it takes me 45 minutes to an hour and a half to get somewhere on transit rather than 15-20 minutes by car; etc. etc.). My husband does not understand my issues with transit. For him, it is a miracle, and our lives are less stressful and financially more secure without the presence of an automobile.
Don’t get me wrong. I experienced a great sense of relief when I sold my little Toyota Prius before leaving for Belgium (though I think most of the relief came from the stress involved in selling a used car via Craigslist and Facebook for sale groups…there are creepers out there!). I agree with my husband that it really is quite remarkable that the transit system exists in the capacity and affordability it does so that we don’t need to spend money we don’t have to buy a car. I miss being able to go out and explore without relying on the cost and schedule of transit. For example, trains are much more expensive in Belgium and in Europe than we anticipated. They are also not a very fast form of transit, and when you get to your destination you are limited to being able to visit places that you can access readily on foot or the transit in that town or city.
Seeing places that are off the beaten path (such as those you would visit to find rare birds, for example) is pretty much out of the question without a car. That being said, I did manage to see quite a few birds when I lived in France for an academic year between 2004 and 2005. I took the bus, train, or walked everywhere I needed to go, and I managed to see a lot in eight months’ time. Of course, my own car was safely tucked away at my parents’ house in Massachusetts, just counting the seconds until my glorious return.
I am not sure what is different in my life in Belgium. Perhaps, it is because I have grown older, more jaded, and far crankier than I used to be. Sometimes, I wonder if all of this self-work has made me more sensitive to pretty much everything. The tendency in the western world is to avoid peeling back those layers upon layers of crap that has built up over our years on the planet. Leaving the layers is a bit like allowing plaque to build up on your teeth. There is a degree of protection offered by plaque, at least in the immediate present. Everything that touches our teeth feels a bit dulled.
If we get our teeth cleaned after a long period of plaque buildup, our teeth suddenly feel vulnerable, exposed, and sensitive. In the initial hours after the cleaning, we might call the dentist (if you are anything like me and a bit neurotic) to ask if something is wrong.
No no, the dentist will assure you. It’s normal to feel a bit of tenderness at first.
Well, tenderness is a kind word for what I have been feeling with each layer I remove on my path to awakening.
Or maybe it is because I am in a life limbo. There is no car waiting for me back in the United States. I am not even sure there is a life there for me. Since I don’t completely feel like I am on solid life ground here in Brussels, there is a certain amount of groundlessness about my existence.
I realize that I am very privileged to lead the fairly charmed, albeit untraditional life my husband and I are creating here in the EU. However, with the groundlessness I am experiencing, I feel a strong desire to create some sense of normalcy and control.
A car can provide some sense of control. It is like a little home on wheels away from home. I can create the environment I want inside. No stale cigarette smoke smell in my car. No being forced to listen to other people’s loud cell phone conversations. I can drive in the peace and quiet, listening only to the voices in my own head.
I can control when I leave my house, where I go, and what I get to see on the way. My perspectives of Brussels have been largely limited to the transit routes. The few times I have been in a friend’s car, I am amazed by how many little neighborhoods I have missed traveling transit.
Had I grown up in a place by New York City or one of the very few places in the United States where one can get around without transit (since transit really does not exist in most of the country), I would be used to not having a car. I am a spoiled, privileged U.S. American, however, and I have had access to a car since getting my driver’s license in high school. I have had the convenience and extreme luxury of being able to get in my car and go.
Don’t get me wrong. This “convenience” has been coupled with plenty of drama and arguments with my insurance company; the Greek Orthodox Church and National Grid Power Company (over the tree that fell on my car when I was living in Lowell); hundreds of dollars worth of oil changes, new tires, maintenance, etc.
In the end, I guess I am more “American” than I would like to admit. I love the idea of the open road, of getting into a car and just driving. I feel a sense of freedom and choice in being able to plot my own course, stop when I want to, listen to what I want to, and go wherever “destiny” leads me.
Perhaps, I really am part of the entitled generation, as my husband suggested last night. We read aloud before bed, and we were deep into a story of a young woman who goes to Dublin to investigate her sister’s brutal murder only to discover the Unseelie caste of Fae are taking over the city. The young woman’s employer was describing her as a member of the entitled generation.
Like you, my husband said.
What? I always thought the entitled generation was the one after me, I retorted.
Wait a second. Do you really think I am entitled?
Pause. A little.
Your relationship with public transit, for example.
Suffice it to say that the conversation ended there by my own silence.
So. Recognizing that I have lived (and continue to live) a very privileged existence, I also believe there is more to my frustration than simply the lack of a car. I think labeling my irritability as purely stemming from entitlement is also short sighted. I think exchanging two full-time job incomes for an unfunded graduate position might also have something to do with it. Coupled with the challenge of trying to sell a house from thousands of miles away, and a difficult year of transition, and I am not the most carefree version of my self.
Many people would say (and do say so on a regular basis) that I am living the dream, so I imagine I should try harder to see my life from this perspective rather than taking note of all the pieces that are missing.
Vroom vroom! (The two latter words were somehow changed by WordPress to read “Pious pious!” which I found too bizarre to not share).