Bumper Cars

Do you remember bumper cars? The child-sized cars have big rubber bumpers, so that as you drove around you could bump into one another and into the borders of the bumper car rink without hurting yourself or someone else.

Sometimes life feels like bumper cars. You keep running into things, backing up, trying a different direction, bumping into something—or someone—else. You never really get anywhere. In bumper cars it’s fun—and it doesn’t last very long before you have to leave or buy another ticket. I guess life is like that too.

Or maybe bumper cars is just practice. When we get a little older, learn some more skills, and get a real driver’s license, off we go. Off to who knows where. But now we can go farther before we encounter something that makes us stop. Usually, we can start up again soon, perhaps in the same direction and perhaps in another.

Boy in car

This year feels like bumper cars. We can get in the car and go, but probably not as far. And when we get “there,” we can’t do things the way we used to. Put on a mask, stay six feet apart, wash your hands. So our physical and social circles are more constrained. If we really need to play bumper cars, wouldn’t it be nice to have a bigger rink with more scenery?

And then there’s politics. It’s not too hard to talk with like-minded folks. But what about when we bump into someone with a different point of view? Sometimes we don’t like them anyway, so we can back up and go another direction. But what about when it’s someone we really care about? How can we approach gently, so no one gets whiplash when our opinions bump into each other?

I was fortunate to hear Dr. B. Jill Carroll speak last night. She described a difficult situation navigating the process of caring for her aging and dying parents. Bumper cars. People we care about with completely different paradigms. Core values were probably pretty much the same. Love your family. Take care of them. Feed them. What’s the best way to do that? Back to bumper cars. Jill’s talk was full of humor, information, warnings, wisdom and warmth. The sentence that is echoing in my ears today is, “It (caring for my parents) knocked the stuffing out of me.”

We cope, we drive our bumper cars or our real cars. We stop, we start. We back up, we go another direction. But sometimes it just knocks the stuffing out of us.

And then what? Perhaps we cry. Perhaps we listen to someone with a different perspective, maybe an entirely different paradigm. Maybe take a look at why and how we came to love or care for that person. Maybe take a nap. Eat some chocolate. Look toward the setting sun. Look at the way that sun turns leaves golden. It’s like magic.

And then, perhaps exhale. A nice slow exhale. Let the air out. Don’t breathe in too quickly. Stay with the emptiness for a moment. Then let the body draw air in. Notice where it goes. Let it go there and see what happens next.

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