In Praise of Messy Outcomes and Favorite Mistakes

My last blogpost was about favorite mistakes. And it spurred me to want to write (here) about the road trip I referenced there, and how great a day I had when my car broke down. That’s not our usual way of looking at things, and I want to put in a plug for rethinking what constitutes a perfect day.

I was out on the road. I was driving, singing, praying, wondering, imagining and dreaming, and then I hit a brick wall. Metaphorically.

The journey slammed to a dead stop when my car wouldn’t start.  And the engine proved to be inexplicably damaged beyond easy repair.  And I met Jeff, the wonder tow-er, and had one of the more interesting days of my entire trip 4040 mile trip.

Besides the trip from remote California to Reno by tow-truck, I also had the chance to sit under a leaking roof while drinking a Margarita in a restaurant in a rainstorm, lose an umbrella to a windstorm, get involved in someone else’s difficult domestic violence dispute with the police, call airport security about “unattended baggage,” and find myself the recipient of a practical joke in a hotel where the prior guest had turned the shower head to face the bathroom, not the shower. It was a doozy of a day.

Yes, I had set off in my beloved MINI Cooper Zippy, drove her 4040 miles (out of a planned 7500 to 8000), and returned home compliments of Southwest Airlines. And though it’s an airline with a sense of humor, a minimum of stress-inducing officiousness, very few seemingly pointless rules, and luggage is (gasp!) free… there’s no way that one of their journeys can qualify as a road trip.

First off, you get there too fast. And secondly, they take you through the air. Which hardly qualifies, as I said, as a road trip.

So once I returned to civilization (i.e. home, where there are more mandates to act civilized than on the road where I truly can eat only beef jerky for days if I want to), I’ve spent some time thinking about how we frame or explain incomplete journeys. Even to ourselves.

For when people said, upon my return, “How was your trip?” (which a few generous souls actually said), I heard myself saying, “It was the most glorious thing that ever happened to me,” quickly followed by “but my car broke down and is still in Reno.” And then that became the conversation, complete with “Oh no” and “I’m so sorry” and “What will you do?” and “Why in the heck doesn’t Reno have a MINI dealer?” and … we were off and running in the last direction I wanted to go in, but the one I made sure we’d pursue once I mentioned the car breakdown. The narrative became “I had a great trip but it’s ruined now.”

Whereas the truth was this: “I had a great trip.” And that day of the breakdown was particularly memorable.

Yes, it took an adjustment to leave a car somewhere, regroup, rent a car while waiting and then abandon the plan to return for the car and go ahead and fly home without the car. Yes, it took another adjustment to realize I wouldn’t even be going back for the repaired car and — instead — it would be shipped home. After a couple of weeks I had to admit that the trip was over, the road from Reno, Nevada to my east coast town not having been covered, at least not by me, in my loop around the country. And Zippy did the journey on the back of a behemoth truck, in shame I fear.

But I eventually quit mentioning the dead car to anyone who asked how my epic journey was, for it was epic even in its half-finished form, altered by forces beyond my control.

Believing in God and his providence as I do, I had to stop and wonder, “What defines any of our journeys?” Is the journey only the time between the beginning and the end of what we had planned (whether an outing, a day, a week, or a lifetime)?  Is the journey the difference between what we plan and what happens to derail our tightly held plans?  Or is it all the journey?

In other words, could I possibly still be on the journey? Maybe home is another destination on this journey. Is it likely that everything that happened before the road trip is equally significant? Is it possible that the stress-free days on the road trip and the disastrous day were equally “good?”

Southwest Airlines, I forgive you.  Brick wall, you too. Because this day of disaster brought me as much as a favorite mistake might — all sorts of gifts.

And highway from Reno, give me a rain check please.




One thought on “In Praise of Messy Outcomes and Favorite Mistakes

  1. […] felt a measure of that agitation when my recent, beautiful road trip ended without my permission.  I’ve already written about the process of surrendering to God and being thankful for His gift … in any form He deemed right (even if I was tempted to think it should have continued as planned), […]

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