Why I Can’t Do Everything

There was a time when I genuinely believed that if I put my mind to it, I can accomplish anything (that was around the time I watched Back to the Future for the first time, for those who may know the reference).

Any challenge accepted, I'd think.

But now I’m older, and I can safely assert that mere willpower won’t get you everything. Your expectations have to be realistic.

To that self, I now say "get outta here," euphemistically speaking.

A few days ago, I posted about some car trouble I had. The car broke down, and I had to drive it back home. It was a rattling, clunking mess. There was no way I was going to be driving it anywhere else; it had to be fixed. I called a couple of mechanics over, who determined that the problem was with the brake shoes, and said they would come back to take care of it within a week. When they came back, I watched as they fixed the problem. It entailed taking the brake assembly apart, replacing the faulty component, and putting it back. Simple to write, but for me to have done it myself would have been ridiculous.

I have a book at home. It’s called “How to Repair Your Car.” I bought the book during my “I can accomplish anything” phase, and hardly read it nowadays. On the cover, there’s a smiling man with a wrench, and inside were fairly easy-to-understand diagrams of the innards of a car. The book’s central thesis is simple: if you know the inner workings of your car, and have the right tools, you can fix certain problems yourself and save money.

Watching the two mechanics work on my brakes, I realized that that’s a bunch of hooey. I could fix the problem myself, theoretically; borrow the right tools, buy the right parts, set aside a day or so to figure out how to take the brakes apart and put them back together. But I was worried by the loudness of it all. They had to bang on the brake assembly with a hammer to remove the drum. They had to pry the whole thing apart too, eliciting some whining and screeching from the springs within. But at times, they would take great care. It was a random ritual to me, a strange mixture of force and finesse. I wouldn’t know the difference if I tried it myself.

Afterwards, they lay the pieces on the ground in no order I could recognize. The parts looked different from one another, for sure, but ask me how they came together, and there would be an awkward silence, after which I would exclaim “witchcraft!”

There’s also one basic physical requirement that I somehow failed to account for: strength. Somehow, I had thought that tools were talismans of power. In my mind, simply holding a tire iron would give you infinite leverage. Of course, now I realize that yes, there is a physical element to it. There’s a reason why Thor could lift Mjolnir*, while my girl-like figure could easily be defeated by a P206/60R15 tire.

It took them just over 30 minutes to replace the brake shoes on both back tires, while I probably would have broken down and cried a quarter of the way into the job. So there’s my big epiphany. I can’t do everything myself, and I’ll have to pay someone else to do things sometimes. Perfectly acceptable to me now, no matter how disappointed my past self would be about it.

*Yes, it’s because he’s worthy. But for the purpose of making me right, let’s say it’s because of his strength.

Right or Wrong, Just Make a Call

Shit happens, and more often than not, they force us to weigh risks and make decisions. At the beginning of our lives, we have our parents, older siblings, and a bunch of other authorities to rely on to make calls for us. At some point, though, we have to get out of the baby seat.

Case in point: last week, I was driving alone in a suburban neighborhood when the car suddenly to shake violently. Something had come loose. Every few feet I drove, the car would protest with a fit of automotive epilepsy. Every time I pressed on the brake, the pedal seemed to push back a little bit, then fall as if whatever was holding it up suddenly fell apart.

So there I was, faced with a choice: do I call for a tow truck, or drive back?

I know from experience that calling a tow truck would take a long time; a half hour if I’m really lucky. I was also not sure whether a tow truck would be allowed in that neighborhood since public utility vehicles and trucks were not allowed in. Finally, getting towed is really expensive. On the other hand, driving back could be dangerous. Who knew what was wrong with the car? Would it get worse if I tried to drive it any further? I didn’t know, and not knowing made me feel a little nervous.

I had gotten the car serviced a few months back; I had the bushings for the front tires replaced, as well as the tie rod ends. I reasoned that if there were something seriously wrong with the suspension of the car, it would have been detected during that time. But there had been no mention of serious trouble with the suspension or risk of the car falling apart.

That’s when I made a decision, took a calculated risk: drive back, but do it slowly to minimize the chances of further damage.

The car seemed to appreciate the slowdown; the quakes turned to shudders for a while. After a while, they got a little stronger again, and a persistent knocking started at one of the back tires. The feedback from the road started to get more intense. Thankfully, though, the way back wasn’t so long, steep, or rough, and I got home, though not without suffering a few stares and getting “helpful” advice from some policemen on patrol (“Just get home carefully”).

It wasn’t much of an ordeal, I know. But it really felt like the scariest hour I’d experienced in a long time, and I was glad it was over. It also felt strangely good to have made a decision that felt risky at the time, but have it work out well in the end. When we get the courage to just decide, it feels really good.

I seriously wish I had a better story to go with this song (sung by I Fight Dragons; thanks to manchegokun for the clip), but I lead a boring life. Does anyone have a better one? I’d love to hear it!