I’d been driving over the Siskiyou Pass towards San Francisco in my trusty 2008 Subaru Outback when I decided to christen her with the name “Rocinante.” I hadn’t been inspired by a name until that drive. However, on this day, as I saw the volcanic valleys stretched before me and Mount Shasta boldly standing her ground, I was reminded of Don Quixote’s companion horse (albeit a skinny one) named Rocinante, which happens to also be the namesake of Steinbeck’s camper truck in which he journeyed the country in Travels With Charley. I thought it fitting for the amazing adventures I’ve had–and was looking forward to having–with my earth-brown auto with “MIDWYF” plates. Her trunk was perpetually filled with camping gear and toys for journeys into the mountains or to the ocean.
I don’t know if she took offense to the name, but Rocinante broke down suddenly and fiercely only a few days later on my way back to Oregon in Willows, CA, about an hour south of Chico. It was a dark and lonely night (really–it was!), and the gas station at which she blew two head gaskets was desolated and dimly lit with buzzing fluorescent lights. Many days later, we would discover she developed the auto-equivalent of a pulmonary embolism. Her radiator suddenly and unexpectedly formed a plug that blocked all flow to the engine. Poor Rocinante…she sat steaming and gurgling at the Willows station until all that built up pressure and heat finally dissipated. When it did, the station seemed to slowly fill with curious and chivalrous townsmen who hmmm’d and haaaa’d at her engine. The general consensus was that she was toast.
I managed to have her towed to the nearest Subaru dealer in Chico after a night at the Willows Holiday Inn Express. While the mechanics in Willows were kind and generous, they looked at her engine like it was made of laser beams and I had to bring her to the nearest qualified shop. I missed a day in clinic as I spent that Monday being told of the thousands of dollars I would have to pay if this ended up not being covered by Subaru or my insurance.
Later that day I rented a car, as loaner cars from the dealer could only go 100 miles from the shop (and Ashland was further than that!), the regional Subaru rep wasn’t going to cover a rental until they decided what happened and who would pay for what, and my USAA auto insurance only covered car rental for incidents related to car accidents. My insurance rep did ask if a rodent had chewed through a hose or something. In that case, he said, it would be a covered condition (in addition to accidents). Hmmm. Sorry, no rodent. Just two blown head gaskets. I couldn’t wait for anyone to decide anything as I needed to get back to work, so my trusty rental Ford Focus and I were introduced. I was afraid to name her lest she have the same reaction as Rocinante. We headed off, anonymously, into the night.
After ten days without Rocinante, I had to drive back down to Chico to drop off my rental car, as apparently the Enterprise rental company in Chico was too small to allow out-of-state drop-offs, and I was now granted a loaner car in Oregon (rental car still not covered…long story…). Rocinante was still in quarantine until the regional Subaru rep was able to examine her, and they hadn’t even started the repair, so I needed someone to come who would drive me back as well. Up for a ride, anyone? Anyone???????
In case you’re wondering, I recently found out Subaru is covering the whole repair as Rocinante was well-fed and cared for by Subaru here in Oregon, and the development of her condition remains a mystery. The things Subaru didn’t cover were finding people to drive back and forth with me to Chico to drop off rental cars and the like, finding people to lend me a car after driving back from Chico since I was on call that night and couldn’t pick up a loaner car until the next morning–but I still needed an emergency vehicle, and taking care of my sleep-deprivation from late nights far from home or while on call here delivering babies as the saga unfolded.
This is where I was reminded once again how misfortune can often open my eyes to the blessings in my life. Friends–people I’d known for years as well as those I’d only spent a few occasions with–rose to the terribly inconvenient situation and stepped up for me. Members of my community went out of their way to lend me their car, cook me a delicious home-made dinner after I arrived late from an 8-hour journey to Chico and back, and even drive with me (half the time by themselves!) on that 8 hour journey…and we weren’t even heading to Yosemite (which usually makes an 8-hour drive worth it). They woke up early to drop me off at the shop, listened to me, supported me, rallied for me, laughed with me at the ridiculousness of all of it, and strategized the future of Rocinante. My partner, over 700 miles away, regularly kept track of my fiascoes and assured me all would be well. They helped me feel cared for.
To feel like a part of a community is a blessing, and one that has been relatively challenging to cultivate in my life as a part-time vagabond. I seem to be in and out of town with relative frequency (Ashland is the place I’ve lived the longest in my adult life!), and I often wonder what I can give back to people in my community during the often brief times we are able to share.
I’ve had far more serious challenges for which my friends have come forth: two diagnoses of cancer, a renal auto-transplant, my father’s passing to name a few, and I am reminded of the importance of offering true connection to the people in my life, because that is what was invaluable for me during those times. Not just pleasantries, but authentic connection. I think that as I write this, what I mean by connection is that the people we are interacting with feel seen and heard. And that means that we try to have to the wisdom to know what they need to feel that way–not just what we would need to feel that way in a similar moment.
My community grows deeper from shared connections. I have been gone a lot lately, and now that I’ll be around for the next couple of weeks, I am looking forward to helping those around me know what they mean to me…to feel cared for, seen and heard. We all deserve that, because each moment of this life is precious, and each one of us deserves to be uplifted and held by those close to us.
We humans love and live for connection–it’s not the multiple superficial ones, but quality and authentic connections that truly sustain us. It would be unnecessary for someone we care about to feel taken for granted, so I encourage us all to set the intention to remember a little more often that the little connections matter, and to go out of our way to do something special for those in our lives. You can write a card and drop it off on the porch, make that phone call that seems there is no time for, buy them a copy of that book by the author they always talk about, have tea, send a funny photo, or simply–and perhaps most importantly–tell them authentically and with presence that they are important to you and why, and listen to them when they speak. Like the Tong-len meditations in Tibetan Buddhism, once we do that with the people close to us for which it might flow a little easier, we can then move on to help those with which we have seemingly brief and passing interactions to feel seen. We are all using our life force, in whatever we do and with whomever we are doing it with, and it is equally valuable to all of us. Let’s make it worthwhile!