The other night I was driving home and was pretty much blinded by some headlights. The weird thing is – these headlights weren’t in front of me, they were behind me.
As those of you who’ve read my stories before know that I drive a 1968 Saab 96. The ones that came from the factory that year had a mirror on each door and one just above the windshield. The ones built earlier had the mirror actually mounted on the top of the dash. The fellow who rebuilt the car before I bought it put the dash of a ’67 in there, complete with mirror, so now I have a car with a total of 4 rear view mirrors, and I was driving home, at night, in the rain.
It was not hard to see what was behind me in this car.
On this evening, in heavy traffic, a rather wide car had managed to find, and stay in, “the sweet spot” behind me where his left headlight was reflected through my drivers’ door mirror, and his right one was reflected off my passenger’s door mirror, and he was far enough back to where he was hitting at least one of the inside mirrors with both headlights.
Anyone looking at me at the time would have seen two round spots of light (one on each eye) connected with a rectangular one on my face.
It was, if you can imagine, bright, and with all that light in my face, I had to concentrate pretty hard to keep from having what was behind me blind me from what was in front of me. Squinting didn’t work – if I squinted enough to make the lights tolerable, I could barely make out what was in the wet darkness in front of me.
The next day, I was driving someplace else, and was able to just drive – it wasn’t raining, it was daylight, and I, while being aware of the mirrors, wasn’t blinded by them…
Something made me look at the size of the windshield, and compare it with the size of the mirrors. Now even though those mirrors were much smaller than the windshield – the night before they’d gotten most of my attention, in large part because those headlights from the car behind me were positioned just right, and it really was hard to see out the front.
I started thinking about this whole thing with mirrors and windshields and why they were useful and when…
And I was kind of surprised and fascinated by the whole ‘aha’ moment that I came up against…
See, the thing is – most of our lives, okay, all of our lives, we’re traveling through this dimension called time, if you will, forward. My personal vehicle for this travel happens to be an old, simple one that works… it’s not fancy, it’s not fast. It’s loud and occasionally obnoxious, but it – well, it works (we could be talking about the Saab or me – up to you to pick that one out 🙂 – and the thing is – let’s say I’m driving someplace… I’m going to spend most of my time looking out the front of the car – to places I haven’t been to yet, to places I’ll get to in the future. I can’t do anything about what’s happening in front of me, but I can prepare myself for what happens once I get there. This could mean I speed up, or slow down, change lanes, or even get off the freeway for a little bit. Bottom line is, what’s on the other side of the windshield is important, and like it or not, can affect my life in both good and bad ways.
I did some more thinking…
There are times ahead when there will be signs of accidents that happened before you got there. I’ve seen it before – where I see a long skid mark heading off the road to make a huge dent in the guard rail. That person was lucky, the guardrail kept him or her from going through it.
There will be times ahead when there will be accidents, there will be flashing lights, highway flares, sometimes there will be tow trucks, ambulances, and police officers. As hard as it is not to gawk, I’ve learned to be careful as I drive by so I don’t become a statistic.
There will be times, I’ve learned, when I won’t get any warning and end up having to swerve, or slam on the brakes, or squeeze through someplace just in time to avoid some major calamity…
You get past it, and while you’re still focused on what’s on the other side of the windshield, you do sneak a few peeks back in the mirror, to see if there’s something you can learn from what you’ve just been through.
Sometimes that’s easy to see, like with those skid marks and a crashed car.
Sometimes it’s easy and important to stop and help.
Sometimes you get there and it’s clear that there’s nothing you can do – either because others are already doing it, or because – well – because you’re too late.
At some point, some of you are going to realize I’m talking far less about cars than I am about life – and that’s where I had my ‘aha’ moment, when those mirrors really had more to do with learning from the mistakes, or lessons, of my past than they did about driving down a rainy highway at night.
I learned that if I paid attention to events like this, it gave me a chance to learn from the mistakes of others without having to make them myself. That doesn’t mean I actually did learn immediately, but it was a start, and that was a good thing.
Sometimes, things behind me – like the car that was behind me at the beginning of this story, seem so bright and so important, that I have a very hard time focusing on what’s ahead of me – be that when I’m driving or in life. I find myself focused on what’s behind me because it just seems so important at the time…
“Why didn’t I do this?”
“Why is this happening?”
“What can I do to get away from this?”
Driving faster to get away from those headlights wouldn’t have done much good, it wouldn’t have been safe to go much faster – I was going about as fast as I really dared to go under those conditions.
And the fact is, I had to keep driving…
But just like in driving, when you need to take a rest, so in life you should do the same thing. Take that time to look back a bit, in your “mirrors.” –
If you made mistakes, learn from them.
If you hurt someone, make it right and ask for their forgiveness.
If you’re the one who was wronged, learn how to forgive.
And sometimes, the person you need to forgive most…
So how’s all this fit with that whole size of the windshield compared to the size of the mirrors thing I mentioned earlier? Well, I think the windshield’s bigger because you’re heading forward, car, life, whichever.
The mirrors are there to help you learn from what you went through.
Both are necessary, but spending too much time looking forward means you don’t learn from the lessons of your past. Spending too much time looking back (like at the lights of that car behind me) means you can’t move forward with any confidence or accuracy.
So – this Thanksgiving – take the time to pull over, to stop and look back, using the “rear view mirrors” at the past year, be thankful for, the things you’ve been blessed to get through, but also – remember it’s behind you. There’s nothing you can do about whatever smooth road or total wreckage there is back there.
The only thing you can do is hold onto the steering wheel as best you can, whether that’s of your car or of your life, and drive carefully.
Take care, folks, happy Thanksgiving…