Backseat Drivers and Distrust of the Universe; Surviving Road Trips with Me in Your Car

We are on the return trip home from an idyllic week at the beach. The kids are happily exhausted and surprisingly quiet. My husband is cackling at his podcast and I am….slamming on the brakes. The imaginary brakes. Because I’m not driving.

I am the worst kind of backseat driver, mostly because I’m in the front seat. I’m a grabber and a yelp-er and an eye cover-er. I flinch when the wind blows too hard. When I’m behind the steering wheel, I like to leave at least forty-two car lengths between my vehicle and the vehicle in front of me. A three hour drive takes about nine hours when I’m the pilot of my craft, but we arrive in tact. Even the car sighs when I drive.

I wish this was my mode of travel. I'd be the bird in the front, obviously.
I wish this was my mode of travel. I’d be the bird in the front, obviously.

The things that make me jumpy on the road are many.  Tractor Trailers. Rickety campers. People that insist on pulling boats and cars behind them. Trucks with loose items not tied down. Logging trucks because of a terrible Lifetime movie I saw once. Minivans because the drivers are distracted and probably ready to leave this life anyway. Motorcycles because they are too confident. Prius because they are too quiet.

In short, unless the road is empty, I am on high alert, white knuckling it wherever I go. Ironically, this doesn’t stop me from travel, but it does make my husband miserable.

Yesterday, (after my high pitched yelp nearly put us under the camper that I was certain my husband was headed towards with the force of a bullet out of a gun), I realized whose fault it is.

It’s the Universe.

My husband approaches life and travel the same way. On the road, he assumes that everyone is a competent driver and if they are not, he trusts that he can maneuver himself out of most situations.

On the road, I assume that everyone is just out of driver’s education, on their way to a drag race with a death wish and the need to text behind the wheel. I spend most of my time picturing our car plunging off the side of a mountain road towards a volcano filled with spikes.

He trusts the other humans on the road. I don’t even trust the road signs. To the little old lady holding open the restroom door at the rest stop, I snarl, “What’s your motive?”

The same goes for our approach to life. He assumes that things will mostly turn out alright, and mostly they do. When they don’t he figures out a way to deal with whatever comes his way.

When I approach life, I assume that the worst could happen. Falling out of tree houses, getting hit by a car walking the dog, drowning, meningitis, cancer. We almost always have cancer in my worst case scenarios. Sometimes we get cancer while falling out of the tree house. It’s a double fear scenario.

After all, you can never be too careful. You never know what will happen.

Except that I’m starting to figure out what happens when you’re too careful. The damage is not generally a fiery death, but the paranoia and anxiety that take the joy and peace out of the life that I’m actually living while I’m imagining all of the things that could have happened instead.

There are too many “what-if’s”. Bad things do happen. I know people who have in fact lost children in car accidents and to cancer.  Husbands are in car accidents on their way home from work. Mothers get sick and leave small children behind. Ironically, these are just the small fears. Don’t forget the large scale realities of war, hunger, hatred and the loss of freedom of entire nations. It’s all real, and it’s all terrifying.

The fear comes from a place deep down inside that is afraid of losing the gifts that the Universe has given. When I float above my life, I am able to see that mostly things have turned out alright for me. I’m one of the lucky ones. We’ve had bad things happen, but we’ve survived them, even when we didn’t want to.  In spite of me, my life has been beautiful.

I hate it when my husband is right.

Now that I’ve realized that the Universe and I are playing on the same team, I have to try. Instead of fearing the loss of the gifts I’ve been given, I’ll try to simply savor them and feel blessed in that moment.

I’m not giving up on seat belts and sunscreen and proper hydration when outdoors. Just the fear attached to them.

I won’t forget about the sadness of the world, but I won’t wear it as a yoke around my neck or use it as a reason to hold onto my fear. Instead I will try to give comfort to my fellow humans when bad things do happen, and hope that if and when they happen to me that someone else will give that same comfort back.

Our next trip is in a week, and I’ll do my best to keep my feet off of the brakes, trust my husband, the tractor trailer drivers and the Universe.

Or maybe I’ll just sit in the backseat and take a nap. That might be a better way to start. Baby steps.

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