Friday, 25 August 2017

Thought Picnic: Running on empty

The eyes can’t see
Almost two decades ago, I had a daring adventure that had me calling up a driving school with the aim of learning how to drive. Now, it was an unlikely prospect, but it was a demon I had to face up to. To prove to myself that I could be in control of such a vehicle which unlike a bicycle had control abstracted from direct interference.
In the back of my mind, I had another issue, I was concerned about my sight, I am short-sighted with the complication of astigmatism in one eye, which means I find it difficult to have stereo vision and by consequence, judging distance versus speed is a poorly developed skill.
I did not learn I had the astigmatic condition until I was in my 30s and it was only then that I had some corrective measures in my glasses, but the damage had been done as I learnt that this could have been corrected at childhood and it probably explains why I was so poor at tennis as a kid, I could never hit ball, because I could not anticipate as it bounced towards me.
Braking suddenly
However, the driving school tutor arrived at my door, I got in the car and we went through a few preliminary issues of concerns, intentions and safety. Critical to me was that we should not drive onto a major road, that we should only do the quiet streets of my neighbourhood. We had not driven 5 minutes when ahead of me, I saw a busy road and I slammed on the brakes.
This could have been my first accident with whiplash to boot, for unbeknownst to me, there was a fire engine behind us. I scolded the tutor for putting me in that situation and he scolded me back for stopping suddenly and endangering both of us. I was having none of it as I stepped out of the car to stop me lessons there and then.
He successfully calmed my nerves down, I got back in the car and we did another 6 days of driving, by which time, I did make it onto major roads, managed the three-point turn, but never fully mastered reversing into a parking space. I knew I could do it, but considering my limitations, I aborted that quest.
Running on empty
Now, consider one of those scenarios where you are travelling in a car on a long journey late at night and from the passenger’s seat, you notice the fuel gauge is reading to the left on E, 'Empty'. I am told it does not necessarily indicate an empty tank, there is some reserve fuel that could give you another few miles, one cannot say.
The thoughts begin to fill your mind with anxiety and trepidation, whether the car would suddenly stop in the middle of nowhere far from civilisation, maybe that light in the distance is a petrol station rather than a motel or a fast food joint, it could be that you get to the petrol station and you have no means to buy petrol, but we are getting ahead of ourselves, until then, you are running on empty.
Running on empty is a test of resilience, the demands of hope over possible disappointment coasting on despair, one is living dangerously in possibly what was an avoidable situation. We have all been there before, and if you have never had that experience ever, you probably have a perfect life, good for you.
Life after plenty
I have found myself running on empty at many stages of life, completely unaware of how much reserve fuel I have in time, in expectation, in hope and in realisation when I find, time, means and place to refill my tank and put aside the heretofore looming catastrophe.
At the time, you agonise between going at your own speed and reaching out for help, how from a life of individuality and independence do you seek assistance when you need it most? Something in the psyche fights against vulnerability defining you and in the process, you probably deny certain qualities of your humanity.
The need to show emotion, probably a moment to shed tears, finding a shoulder and readily leaning on it, meeting someone who not only listens but is able and ready to meet you at that very point of need.
For a better story
How we survive and thrive can sometimes be a mystery and there are times when people do forget that you are weak even when you seem to be strong, you have nothing much as you present a veneer of plenty, your apparent destitution will only be discovered through engagement and empathy. Running on empty is not the end of the journey even if it presages a sudden end to that journey.
I am thankful that there is some reserve, I do not know how much or for how long this journey would continue and might get to a petrol station and fill up before the car stops. Such is the feeling of a job seeker, the savings are drained, the bills pile up and privations come to the fore as you eke out subsistence from literally nothing. Running on empty is an experience in the hope it becomes a story told from a better standpoint very soon.


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