Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Check Engine Light

We've all see in it at some point in our life.  Life is moving along rather uneventfully and then there it is, the God DAMN Check Engine Light.  It's yellow glow reminding us that we better be mindful of our car maintenance and better get things looked at right away or else we may find ourselves stranded on the side of the road somewhere.  I wonder if how you react to a check engine light reveals something about your character.

My mini-van's check engine light goes on and off from time to time.  I got freaked out when I first saw it.  My husband plugged it in and it's a bad sensor.  Don't ask me which, cause I don't remember.  All I really care to know about the vehicle I'm driving is whether or not it's going to get me home safely today.  When my car failed to break  down each time it rubbed it's little yellow glow in my face, I learned to dismiss it.  But every time I dare to forget about it entirely it pops up and reminds me that I really should care. 

Because anyone who knows me knows I love a good metaphor, I'm adopting the Check Engine light as my metaphor of the week.  Some people like me are extremely vocal when they're having a tough time, but then there are those for whom a small, quiet glowing warning light is all that exists to indicate to the outside world that something is wrong.  In my magical car metaphor, I'm that clunky noise you try to describe to your mechanic in a rather sad explanation of what's wrong, but I worry about the people and mothers especially who never show any outward signs of distress.  I hope that someone is paying attention to these women and saying to themselves "I better figure out what's wrong before something worse happens."

We all get so used to asking each other, "How are you?" but hardly anybody really expects a real answer.  We wait two seconds for the obligatory "fine" and carry on with our own preoccupations.  I'll never forget that there was one person I asked years ago, who dared to give me a real answer.  I was walking through the halls of my workplace, busily trying to get accomplished whatever my current task was and I happened to say hello to a co-worker and asked him how he was.  As it turned out, his mother was dying and for the next half hour we talked about it.  It was a very personal conversation for co-workers and yet I felt somehow that is was natural.  Losing my Dad had given me a common vantage point to understand what he was going through, to see the very spot on life's path that those who haven't been there simply cannot.

I'm not sure why he trusted me enough to share his feelings with me, but I have the theory that his check engine light had simply turned on and he had been waiting for someone to notice.  In turn he became someone I could talk to when my light blinked on. 

I hope that I'm the type of person who cares enough to notice when someone really needs another person to simply care enough to know what's going on in their lives.  But the truth is we all get preoccupied with our own lives and let's face it, it's incredibly easy to ignore that small glowing light in others that warns that things are not as great as they might appear.  Though I sometimes worry that my over sharing nature might make some people uncomfortable, I know exactly what happens to me when I ignore my light for too long.

It's for this reason that I implore the stoic, the polished and perfected, and the perpetual caretakers to speak up and maybe give someone a chance to really listen beyond the "fine".  Of everyone else I make this small and simple request- every once in a while stop and look around you and really take note of the silent, steady glow.  There's usually a light on somewhere.