Years ago, standing in our parent’s basement one of my sisters wondered what it would be like to deal with all of our dad’s paperwork. While not a hoarder in other areas, every piece of paper the man had touched through his life, he kept.
In that moment, the Lord gave me this insight: All this paper is more than paper, it is the container of your dad’s story.
Tax records going back decades were not kept in case of being audited. No, they were kept as a record. A record that said, “I was here, I took care of my family, I held a job, I gave to my church and charities. I invested myself in what matters in this world.” I can tell you this is not what my tax records mean to me because I do not keep my story in tax records.
Oddly, though a non-car person, my story is held, in part, by the cars I have owned.
As a college graduation present, my parents got me a car. It was love at first sight! She was a red Dodge Shadow and had an air spoiler and a strip down her side. In sixth grade I was cast as Margot Lane in a radio play about The Shadow; so, her name was Margot.
My education program was completed with a year of student teaching and graduate classes. Margot drove me out to Perry Middle School in rural Kansas. We had our first near death experience along those roads. She drove me to South Junior High where I learned to love teaching Algebra. And from South Junior High we hurried to the University of Kansas where I taught ESL to students from around the world as I completed my Master’s Degree.
During the summers we spent hours together driving home to Denver. And then hours apart as she sat in a parking lot while I taught English and fell in love with China. After several years of teaching in Kansas and summers in China, Margot watched as my dad helped load a U-Haul to take my worldly possessions back to Denver to live for two years in my sister’s basement.
Dad headed off to Denver and Margot and I hit the road for a detour through Wichita. A dear friend had donated a kidney to her brother and I wanted to visit her one last time before I moved to China.
Because I was only going to China for two years, it seemed silly to sell her. So I didn’t.
I do not know where my story would have been stored if I had sold her. I am also not sure when she became the keeper of my story. All I know is that she did. Every time I returned to the U.S. she was there to drive me around and provide me with a sense of independence.
In the blink of an eye, nine years passed.
I returned to the U.S. on a study leave. Margot and I were united again. And again she drove me to school, to visit friends, to speak at churches. She heard me sing and bore silent witness to the tears I shed in the months leading up to another goodbye.
In the blink of an eye, three years passed.
I returned to China. My beloved Margot sat once more, waiting for me.
Whenever I returned to Denver, she was there. She provided me the gift of coming and going at will. But then one summer, it was obvious that Margot was aging and the time had come to do the unthinkable.
No one would have paid her true value and I could not bear to have her underappreciated. I called the local rescue mission and explained I had a car to donate. We set up an appointment for me to turn over the title, I had only one stipulation: You cannot take her until I have left for China. I cannot bear to see her drive away.
The pain cut so deep, it went beyond reason. I might have given my left arm to be able to keep her. And that’s when I hit me.
Margot held my story.
I loved living overseas. I thrived. But every now and then as I aged the twinge would come when I thought of siblings and peers who had houses and cars and other “normal” markers of adulthood. I had a passport full of stamps, yes. But I had nothing tangible to point to that indicated “Here is an adult. Here is a ‘real person.’”
Margot had been with me through my 20s and 30s. She was the one constant in a sea of change. While I lived a more nomadic existence, packing up after each year in China (another story for another time), and I found myself at age 30 having life rhythms I had had at twenty, I would say to myself, “Don’t worry, I am a real adult, I own a car.”
This week all of this flooded back.
Four years ago I moved back to the U.S. and bought another car. Much to everyone’s shock, after insisting on only buying red computers, red this, red that. She was blue. As a Honda Fit it seemed only fitting that she be called Fiona.
Cutting to the chase, she was pummeled in a colossal hail storm in May. This week she was deemed totaled. This had not occurred to me when I casually dropped her off the end of August. On the phone with the insurance who went over the details and what I would be paid and steps I need to take, she casually asked if I needed to get an any personal items out of the car before she was reclaimed at the repair place. Of course I do you idiot. (Only part said out loud.)
I still own nothing but a car as a sign of adulthood. And now that which held my story for the last four years, is no longer mine.
My story will go on. God at work in and through me, to be sure.
But I am left wondering who will keep the story now? And why can the cost of the call sneak up? Will Fiona’s new owner know what she is capable of?
It may not be taxes, paper, or cars, but in his mercy, God uses ordinary things of this world to help hold your story. What is it for you?
This first appeared at A Life Overseas here. I was reminded recently how cars help hold my story as another car was “murdered” (aka totaled by a stranger causing an accident) and the grief that came with it for me.