On Monday, I set the trip odometer after I had been on the road for about two hours, when I stopped to fill up the tank on the Massachusetts Turnpike. I realized that before the trip was over, I would see my car turn over to 100,000 miles. Now, she’s a Volvo, and as St. Casserole says, that means she’s just getting broken in; I’d like to think she is no further than mid-life.
I bought the car just after I turned 40, an “executive program car” with 11,000 miles and no marks suggesting anyone had so much as touched the leather upholstery. Five years and 90,000 miles later, she bears the marks of children and dogs: crumbs, slobber, sand from the dog park, hair that will not come off the upholstered ceiling in the dog section, heel scuff marks on the backs of the front seats, some sort of red food or drink gumming up the back seat floor. You may wipe the leather, you may plead with the leather, you may weep upon the leather and dry it with your long hair, but it will never look the way it did on that May afternoon in 2001.
I spent last night at the home of Childhood Friend. We had not seen each other since 1994. We both admitted some anxiety about what to wear and and an awareness that we have aged since last we met. On that day, at her mother’s house in Jane Austen’s Village, we talked hurriedly as her young children played. We discussed her plan to go to law school that fall, and my hope to be at seminary that year, too. Her marriage was ending, and mine was difficult, and I remember having a sense of relief that there was someone from my past whose life included adjustments and realizations and new beginnings.
Last night we sat on her bed and I remembered the many nights we spent together as girls in the high, old-fashioned bed in her childhood home. Her home now feels very familiar, in part because there are some familiar pieces of furniture, and in part because it has similar features, but in largest measure because she shares with her late parents a gift for hospitality and a disarming personality. It was a gift to have a friend so close that waking up with her leg flung over me was only natural.
Since last we met there have been more changes in both our lives than we could easily count. As I drove away today I found myself thinking, “Oh, I wish I had asked this,” and “Why didn’t I tell her about that?” I don’t feel as sure as I used to that there will always be some other opportunity to share these things, that we will be able to reset the trip odometer over and over again in this life. I’m grateful for the chance to have this time together.
On the Garden State Parkway, I counted down toward the big rollover, comparing the tenths of miles on the trip odometer with the whole miles on the odometer, and in Elizabeth, New Jersey, I celebrated being in the middle of life, my car’s and mine, awake to the passage of time and the things that matter.