How a Car Becomes a Symbol

One of the hardest things for me to understand as an English major was the concept of symbolism. My teachers could not get across to me the idea that the significance of some image/object/phrase took on meaning to the character in the story/painting/poem/song/movie, and that the symbol did not have that meaning outside the context of the work.

A I end this series, I am thinking of other stories, other cars—my first new car, which was totaled in a crash by my ex. He was unharmed.  Trading cars when I married the second time, and giving my old car to a family who needed one and who took much better care of it than I had. Letting my mother buy a van for me, and paying her back for it—mostly, while putting nearly 200k miles on it. Proving to the mechanic that my cats were capable of and did turn my lights on, which drained my battery. Again.

I started this blog series because I realized that the vehicles in my life have taken on a kind of symbolism of my marriages. My interpretation of the events of my life, which admittedly are biased and skewed from my subjective point of view, make up my story.

How you tell your story IS your life. If you can let go of your old perspectives and take a fresh look at your experiences, you can heal. Everyone has wounds, and everyone has wounded others—it’s part of living in relationship. I can see actions that I would like to do over, deleting that piece of the narrative  and revising it.

Some deconstruction would be appropriate here.

I can see where my sense of being broke, of being poor and powerless, led to my experiences with my various cars. I had a sense of pride in surviving these incidents, without ever understanding that the same forces that sent me help might have assisted me in being more productive, if I had allowed myself to think in that way.  If I had thought of my marriages as systems that needed to be maintained, I might still be married. Or not. I take better care of my car now because it is mine, and I am the only one responsible for it. I depend on it, and it depends on me.

Poverty consciousness, which has little to do with how much money a person has, limits the kinds of thoughts a person can have, just like having low blood sugar can make a person angry and too irritable to reason. Any person who stays in fight-or-flight mode all the time will have health issues, relationship issues and probably automotive issues as well. I’ve learned a little about maintenance of my car, of my health, of my diet. Cars need oil changes; people need exercise. Cars need good quality gas; people need vegetables. But most importantly, cars need not to be taken for granted. A simple problem that is easy and cheap to fix today, may develop into a serious repair or being stranded down the road.

The same is true of relationships. A person who is taken for granted will fall out of relationship, and it will take more than a front-end alignment or marriage counseling to solve the problem. It’s not wise to assume that some other institution or the other person will do whatever is necessary to keep things moving forward on the right road.

At some point, it is up to each of us to develop that meaning in our lives and to deconstruct our own stories, so that we can edit them to our benefit.

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