“You have to trust the other drivers,” my father said gently.
With those words, my fingers loosened on the wheel, my shoulders relaxed, and my eyes refocused on the right side of the road.
I was 16 and about to take a driver’s ed class, but my father and I thought it might help to practice beforehand. (My mother wanted no part of it.) For many teens, it would have been time to cue the father-son tension. But my father had always been laid-back and hands-off, so I did not dread driving with him.
Even though this was his sixth time teaching driving to a nervous teenager (I am the youngest of our large brood), he was still filled with patience as he sat there in the passenger seat. Or maybe my older siblings had already run over his last nerve. His calmness is even more remarkable to me now, as I have just two children but often reach for my white flag of surrender.
To my surprise, what first troubled me as a new driver was the sight of oncoming cars in the left lane. How could I be sure they weren’t going to cross the yellow line and kill us instantly? Sensing my concern, my father uttered his simple words about trust.
It hadn’t occurred to me until that moment how much the world runs on trust — e.g., that people will act responsibly, that our hearts won’t stop beating, that buildings won’t collapse, and that the sun will rise and set, among other so-called certainties. In fact, without a basic faith in the workings of the universe, how could we even get out of bed every morning?
Trust the universe, yourself
My father’s constant ability to trust the universe was modeled in many other ways. For example, whenever my siblings or I were sick, he would place his hands on our foreheads and quietly talk about how some cultures believe we have “healing power” if we think positive thoughts as we lay hands upon an ailing body. (In the meantime, our mother gave us medicine.) As you might expect, my siblings and I would sometimes snicker at “the healing power,” but we all secretly savored the feeling of being loved in such a palpable way.
Similar to the healing power technique, my father would often extol the benefits of creative visualization to calm one’s nerves. If we were fretting about getting a large homework project finished, he would say: “Visualize in great detail the moment of handing the project in to your teacher.” The theory is that by visualizing success, you help bring it into being. (I realize now it was also my parents’ way of saying “you can do it, and we’re not going to do it for you.”)
I can’t guarantee the visualization method works, but I always seemed to get those projects done while feeling supported in the process. It has also given me a tool to use when my own children are struggling with a school deadline.
Granted, as adults we know the world often falls short of our trusting expectations. Some illnesses don’t heal, some work goes undone, and certainly some drivers prove to be untrustworthy. Indeed, my driver’s ed instructor taught “defensive driving” and emphasized the opposite of my father’s advice about trust. And that was long before road rage had a name and hyped-up media coverage. (I should add that my mother’s mantra for driving was “everybody’s crazy, drive safely.”)
Looking back, however, I believe my father’s repeated emphasis on invisible phenomena like trust, healing and visualization had a cumulative effect on my mental and emotional health as I grew up. In a sense, he helped me build a world of trust, to swim in a sea of faith. As I parent my own children, I strive for my family to swim in the same waters. Especially when it’s my turn to help my daughter with her driver’s ed practice.