Learning How To Drive Again

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woman driving
Photo by Alex Radelich

Like many of you readers in Detroit, I got my driver’s license in the Motor City when I was 16. My parents taught me how to drive. We’d spend hours practicing U-turns on Woodward Avenue and merging onto I-75 South. The all-too-familiar request that repeated itself at the age of 15 was “Dad! Can I drive?” I am sure I’m not the only one.

When I first moved to Israel, being a passenger in a car was scary enough — why would I dare drive one? I equated typical driving in Israel to constantly being on the verge of a car accident.

Over time, I developed a fear of driving. At first, I only drove when I visited Detroit, but that eventually stopped altogether. The last time I drove, I started down Woodward Avenue and turned around at about 7 Mile, just three miles from my house, because it was too stressful.

Not too long ago, I got an idea: I would take driver’s ed in Israel and get coached back to confidence. Safely beside my new teacher, I could reclaim the driver’s seat and the forgotten pleasure of speeding through open roads.

During my first few lessons, my driver’s ed teacher was constantly telling me to “slow down.”

“You’re doing great! But you drive pretty fast,” he remarked with a chuckle at the end of our third or fourth lesson as I parked his black Honda near the sidewalk.

This didn’t change over time. He just kept piling more remarks on me. Slow down. Speed up. You’re going too fast. Watch out for … etc.

How would you feel in my shoes? You are making enormous efforts, but you just can’t seem to get it right. New instructions flood you from all directions. Your teacher corrects you for the 30th time today. Cars pull out from unexpected corners. You didn’t even notice the stop sign. Are you overwhelmed yet? And you thought you already knew how to drive…

Strangely enough, I have come to enjoy being overwhelmed during driver’s ed. Comforted by the fact that it’s not the real thing, yet motivated by the prospect of doing it alone eventually. The transition to independence is a leap of faith. Feeling overwhelmed and confused are signs that I am on my way to internalizing a skill I did not have beforehand.

When I first tried Tai Chi several years ago, I was told to plant myself somewhere in the middle of the crowd and be “happily lost.” What was implied? I surely couldn’t expect to get it perfectly right the first time. And that was just fine. The trick is putting in the effort, knowing that my labor will bear fruit. When? I don’t know. But the “happily lost” method has proved itself over time. The first thing I do when I learn something new is exempt myself from trying to look or sound good. In fact, I am not satisfied unless I am clumsy — then I am assured I am trying something I have never tried before and thus learning something new.

And that is how I plan to pass my Israeli driver’s test.  

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