Shifting Gears

by Blakeney Schick

In November my parents got a new car – one with a stick shift. Having gotten my driver’s license just last year, I had no idea how to drive the new car, but the plan was for me to learn while we were visiting our relatives in rural Pennsylvania over Christmas, far from objects and people to crash into as I stalled over and over again.

Then, in early December, my father went into the hospital with a mysterious illness that took his team of doctors a week to diagnose. As he started responding to treatment, my learning how to drive the new car was becoming an increasingly important priority. My mother couldn’t be saddled with all of the driving if our visit down to Pennsylvania had any hope of happening.

Which is how we found ourselves in Gowanus on a Saturday afternoon, surrounded by objects to crash into, but few people. I got behind the wheel, my mother got in the passenger seat, and all the seat belts got fastened. We were in for a bumpy ride.

It didn’t take long for me to find a combination of pushing down the clutch, the gas and then the brake that didn’t just make the car stall; it made the car lurch and jerk forward and back about 4 times before finally coming to a stop. And, after 10 days of anxiety, it had both of us laughing hysterically.

My parents taught for over 20 years. My father’s teaching style, at least in a car with his daughter, is lots of specific instruction given at increasing volume. My mother, on the other hand, sat there, silently watching me figure it out. Asked if she had any words of advice about technique, she replied, “It’s like riding a bike.” True, but that left me to figure out the muscle memory for myself.

For the next 20 minutes we lurched around as I stalled constantly, much of it accompanied by strings of expletives. And then I started getting the hang of getting the car going – in reverse. Another 15 minutes had me moving forward and then figuring the combination of pedals that leads to a successful turn.

That Saturday I started to get the basics of a stick shift. But our driving lesson in Gowanus reminded me of a few simple truths: sometimes you have to go backwards to eventually go forward. Cursing can express your frustration, but laughter can dissolve tension. You can get lots of instruction but ultimately you still need to figure out how to make something work for you, not anyone else. And if I ever give you a ride, do not forget to buckle your seat belt.

Blakeney Schick is a public radio producer who follows events and elections. She started going to yoga 8 years ago in the hopes that it would help her stand up straighter. It has. But she’s stayed on the mat because yoga’s also made her stronger in every possible way. Blakeney found her way to Mala in late 2007, and finished Mala’s 200-hour teacher training in 2012. She is also a regular contributor to the Mala Yoga blog.

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