When I lost power steering just blocks from my office, what I heard myself say was, Oh gosh, well, I better see if I can make it to the Firestone. What I did not do is panic.
If you’ve followed my writing at any point in the past eight years, you know that I have found myself on the side of the road—often a highway in rush hour traffic or some other precarious spot—more often than is reasonable. Nearly every time has come with a steep price tag after the repair is complete.
My car conversant child believes Mom needs to buy a new-to-me car already! But since I am determined to live within my means—if not below them—a car payment simply isn’t in the budget now nor has it been in the past ten years. The repairs are expensive, but the Firestone credit card (interest free for six months) has helped me to finance these unexpected expenses without dipping into my savings. My latest repair spread over 12 months makes it $73 a month. I can afford that…but I digress.
When my friends at Firestone told me they were booked until the beginning of the next week, I sighed. I had weekend plans with my daughter on the other side of the state. I took a seat in the little waiting area, took a few deep breaths, and shed a few tears. Then I stood up and walked to my office. In the space of a few minutes, I was able to recognize that I was safe, and while all of this was an inconvenience, I was not in immediate danger. All of the previous times stranded on the side of the road had granted me this perspective.
Greeting colleagues with a Happy Friday! as I entered my office,I set up my laptop, and my thoughts ran on tandem tracks. First, I had a team meeting in 15 minutes that I needed to be ready for. Second, I was running through the options of how I would get home at the end of the day and still head west for a party I did not want to miss.
I facilitated the meeting. I called another Firestone location and learned that they were as busy as the one near my office. I remembered a colleague lives only a few miles from my house and could possibly give me a ride home. My daughter has access to her dad’s extra vehicle we could probably use for our trip.
I have practiced sitting and waiting in uncomfortable circumstances and devising alternate plans. I’ve done it so much that I now recognize my ability to maintain a legitimate sense of calm. I had a moment of thinking I should phone my partner and ask him to talk me through this moment, and then I realized, I wasn’t panicking. I was in control of my emotions and my thoughts. I would text him about it later. There was comfort knowing that I wanted to talk to him, but in this moment I didn’t need to. I could handle it.
I didn’t panic when I was behind the wheel, nor when I figured out next steps. Recently, I stumbled upon this Italian phrase, Lupus in fabula in an Instagram post by Jade Bonacolta. Translated it means, “the wolf in the fairy tale.” She shares that it was one of “seven Italian concepts that will change your life.” She writes, “There’s always an unexpected obstacle around the corner.” She advises to “Plan for risk (especially if things seem too good to be true.)
When I read this explanation, I felt a mental lightbulb turn on. This is why I am able to move so smoothly through difficult moments. I have had plenty of wolves cross my paths in the past eight years, and each one has taught me about my own wits, resilience, and creative problem solving. I am resourceful and capable of whatever comes my way because I have outsmarted each wolf that appeared before me.
I have gotten more serious about putting money in my savings account for just these occasions. I have also devised a plan to pay off my credit card, which has been the most aggressive of all the wolves I’ve encountered.
Making peace with the unexpected has been one of the most important skills I have developed. It is liberating too. In the early years of my divorce when household items kept breaking, I put so much energy in wishing it hadn’t happened or in drafting a narrative about what it meant that these things were falling apart around me. Now, I know to take a breath. I remember that this is life. Full stop. There’s no need for an inner monologue that only serves to ratchet up my anxiety.
A month ago, when my alternator was replaced, it wasn’t done properly. The mismatched parts shredded a belt, which snapped and caused me to lose power steering. For a moment, it had seemed terrible timing. But actually it was divine. It happened before my daughter and I began our road trip. The parts and labor are covered, so I don’t have to worry about further expense.
It could be tempting to dismiss my ability to find silver linings as a function of being naïve or artificially optimistic, but locating the bright side of hard situations is a lifeline for me. It has become a practice, a way in which I move through the world. It’s a tool that helps me the most when I’m between a rock and a hard place—or stuck on the side of the road. Bonacolta is right. Expecting the wolf, and knowing I can rescue myself (with the help of Firestone and AAA) has changed my life.