Mid-life Crisis

Check Engine

It all started when the "Check Engine" light came on a few weeks ago. On a hot Wednesday morning, on my way to a clergy meeting at a small town church, wandering on country roads and not entirely sure how to get to my destination, I saw that dreaded portent.

I have a theory that these lights are set to go off at odd numbers on the odometer just to get you to take the car to the dealership.

But what is the equivalent for our bodies? I have to admit that while I am pretty good about making sure other members of my family get to the doctor for regular check-ups, I am bad about it for myself. Part of this is a morbid fear of being told to get my act together around food and weight. I expect the doctor to go at me the way my mother used to do. I remember only too well how she held out the fantasy that weight loss would solve everything else in my life. It certainly did not, and it also opened up a new subdivision in our ever-developing lifelong struggle with one another, in which I put weight back on and she lost it. 

Meanwhile, I’m getting older, and the older I get the more like my father I become. My work takes increasing precedence, and why not when it is so satisfying? It feels important (oh, that word! That verbal equivalent of crack or smack or X or whatever the drug of choice might be!). I’m doing things for others and that is surely more significant than doing things for myself, right?

Back to the "Check Engine" light. As a good owner of an over-driven Solid Gold Volvo, I have the dealership number programmed into my cell phone. I pulled over and called the service department. I explained that the car was behaving normally, but the "Check Engine" light was on, and I was far from civilization and a bit worried.

"It’s probably safe to drive," said the man on the other end of the phone, safely ensconced at City By the Sea Volvo.

I didn’t have much choice. I kept driving. I made an appointment to bring in the car, but the light went off and I was too busy and weeks went by and…

The other day the light came on again. "Check Engine."

I cannot help but think about the relationship of this car with its 116,000 miles and my 46-year-old body, each of which I drive rather hard without providing adequate preventive maintenance. If the car breaks down or requires too much repair, I can trade it in and start over again. Not so my own vehicle, the carrier of my heart and soul and mind. I only get one.

My attitude about that body, my body, is composed of many conflicting feelings and impressions and responses and judgments. Maybe we all feel this way. The same body that felt powerful and noble bringing life into the world felt threatened with death performing the same feat a few years later. The body that felt rejected and inadequate in what feels like another life has moments of feeling quite the opposite in the now. A body that a few years ago climbed mountains had reached a point of finding a few flights of stairs a nearly insuperable obstacle, a wind-sapping marathon that made preaching feel difficult.

"Check Engine."

I’m pleased to say that after ten days of walking I do feel somewhat better already, but I know how difficult I find it to stay with a discipline of this sort. I become distracted by the "important" and fail to rate care of my own machine high enough. I used to say, after the times in which I had been frighteningly depressed, that I was not afraid enough of dying. Not so now, I have more to do in this life, I hope, and scary as it sounds to me, the hard work of caring for myself seems to be part of it.

19 thoughts on “Check Engine”

  1. At least you’re good enough to be distracted from healthy habits by “important” things! I get distracted by thoughts like: “OH, how I HATE to exercise” and “YES, I will have another martini, thank you!”
    –sigh–
    And, yeah, my engine is the same age as yours and my engine light has been flashing for a while. Stupid stairs, anyway!

  2. There is a lot of talk about self-care these days around the blog-ring. Thank you for sharing your insights that help me to remember to care of my “engine.”
    Speaking of self-care, yesterday I finally got a chance to soak in tub with the lavender bubble bath by the light of the little candle you sent me. Thank you afaing

  3. In a similar boat here! DH and I just started walking “regularly” last week. As I huffed back up the “hill” with DH at my side this AM, I remembered climbing hundreds of steps into the dome of a large European cathedral 20 years ago this summer. I keep saying I’d love to go back to Europe, take DH to the places I know he’d love as much as I did. But I’ll have to huff up a few more hills before I could possibly enjoy it w/o having to sit down every couple of blocks!

  4. Me too….I wonder if there’s scope for a revgals “service” audit or something. Despite cycling round the parish, which I enjoy AND which makes me feel very virtuous, hills are another matter entirely. And (oh dear oh dear) Friday sees the milometer click over onto 47, which suddenly feels rather threateningly middle aged. Waaah.
    Glad we’re all in this together, my friends.

  5. Nothing is as easy as it used to be, is it? But, this is the key time to institute changes which help this earthly body carry us forward. Being a nurse, I see the difference between those who have a good quality of life later in their years and those who don’t and it’s fully defined by the health of their bodies. All this I KNOW, and yet… it’s so hard to make the time for ourselves. Oh, how great it would be to take ourselves into the Volvo shop for a tune-up.

  6. I’ve been telling myself for months that I’ve got to start walking again. Congrats to you for doing it–maybe your example will provide the inspiration that finally gets me going!

  7. Thank you for so bravely telling the truth, and so gently calling others of us to reflect and pay attention to our engine lights.

  8. I love your writing. Have I said that before? Yeah – but wanted to say it again. You are one heck of a writer songbird.
    Glad to read about the walking too 🙂

  9. Songbird! Get to the doctor. right. now. There are a couple of thing that all of us should get checked periodically — blood pressure, blood sugar, Pap test, mammogram, cholesterol. The good news — at our age anything those tests uncover can usually be treated before it does too much damage. C’mon you know I’m right. I wouldn’t be here today if I weren’t.
    P.S. I’ve worked out 5 times in the last 10 days! I also have an insanely outdoorsy and athletic spouse, and I can’t bear it when I can’t keep up. (Actually, I’ll never keep up, but I’d like to stay within shouting distance.)

  10. My “low tire” light came on during my trip home today (not ‘check engine’ but, hey). I knew one of my tires was low, but I was being lazy about filling it. I stopped at the shop on the corner, asked them to fix my tire, and walked home. They called a little later and said, “I’ve never seen anything like this, and I don’t know how you did it, but you burned a hole right through your tire.” I now have a new tire, and was inspired to take care of a few issues (ones that are getting in the way of my personal care) that have been festering. All because of your post, which I read before leaving for work this morning! Thanks!

  11. I do some of my pastoral visits on walks. It’s nice for those of us that are by the sea to walk on the beach. Actually, I’m even having a planning meeting with another clergy member while walking. How’s that for multi-tasking? Or does that just mean that my check engine sign is going out of control?

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