“If you could be a car, what kind of car would you be?” I cannot remember who was being asked, but it was one of those NPR radio interviews of some notable actress or writer who was fast enough on her feet to respond, “I’m not sure about that, but I do know what kind of car I wish I had.”
I first started out with a 1999 Toyota Camry during my first years on the job at a hospice. That seemed like an appropriately conservative but reliable choice for all those miles I would have to cover. It was not flashy but nor was it beat-up looking. No one commented on it one way or the other, at least not until I collided with another car and the hood of my own popped open as I espied a tiny flame as the hood sprang open. I sprinted out minus my medical charts and notes. I knew from disaster training that seeing fire means leave at once or you might never be able to leave at all. Sure enough within minutes if that, the now vigorous flame had its abundant offspring all over the vehicle. I had to cajole a medic to drop me off at a train station so I could make the fifty-mile trip home in the crisp November night. One of my husband’s coworkers picked me up at the other end to drive me the remaining three miles, shivering and in shock.
Minus a car as well as the other items, I knew I had to temporarily get a car right away and worry about calmly buying a suitable car later. I decidedly was not in any shape to do any serious car shopping. So I settled for the first used car I could find, which turned out to be a 1994 Mustang, jubilantly blue, sitting for sale at my local gas station. The car, which was sporty enough despite its age to warrant higher insurance, inspired reactions from patients, families and various personnel. I noticed for instance that when I approached a security guard at a gated community in the visitor’s lane, unlike prior occasions, he very carefully checked my work badge before hesitantly waving me on in. There I was, a real hot- roddin’ chaplain, potentially a threat to the premises.
When I visit a patient for the first time, the burden is on me to make the kind of impression that will put her or him at ease about acting her true self with me and talking about what she really wants to talk about. The Mustang did not help in that regard. Once I got past the gate, a family member came out to meet me at the lot and said, “That’s your car?” It seemed my credentials and/or credibility were now being called into question. I proceeded to gracefully walk into the home as if a gilded carriage had just dropped me off.
And so if I could be a car, how would I look? I immediately think about cars having interiors as well as exteriors. My interior is sturdy and durable but somewhat worn from the toll of life’s trying episodes. Excess baggage clutters the back seats, but I always make room for passengers, even ones with their own cumbersome baggage. The exterior has a brilliant inviting sheen. The headlights search out truth and meaning but their toned-down lights do not glare into anyone’s eyes. Anyone care to try me out and go for a spin?