At the car wash she tells me to “put it in neutral and step off the brake.” I’m certain that she says it no less than a hundred times a day. She’s tired of saying it by the time I get there, twenty minutes before closing. She’s counting the cars in line behind me, because behind them, waiting patiently, is her freedom. She’s said these words over and over. She’s reached her quota for the day. She’s bored by these simple instructions.
But I’m not. I’m thrilled to put the car in neutral and step off the brake and glide along a conveyer belt without having to think. I love how it feels to take my hands off the wheel and just let go, if only for a few moments. It’s liberating. It’s freeing. It’s sometimes the best thing I can do for myself at the end of a long week. There’s a lesson to be learned here. Sometimes I just need to let go.
My life has become dependent upon control. I like to have a sense of power over the course of things. I like being able to change the things that need changing. Nothing brings me greater angst or frustration than not having that control. I hate that there are problems that I have no solutions for. I hate that there are people that I cannot help fix. I hate that I carry so much of that around with me instead of accepting it and leaving it behind. I hate that I spend so much of my time in drive or park, and so little of it in neutral. There is something to be said for just floating along.
Because when you come out the other side, you look like new. You’ve washed away what’s been clinging to you, all of life’s dirt and grime that you’ve passed through. You’re refreshed. You’re shiny. You’re ready to start all over again.
And as lame as this metaphor might be, for those few moments when your feet are off the pedals and your hands are off the wheel, you know you should feel anxious and frustrated and frightened, but you don’t. You feel safe. You feel light. You feel like you can breathe.
Letting go is like that. It’s scary. It takes every bit of strength to loosen your grip, but once your hands are open, you wonder what it was you were so afraid of. You realize that it’s easier and different than you had expected. You realize that it feels good. You look at your open hands and see all of the possibility held there.
We cling to things because we’re terrified of empty space. We surrounded ourselves with possessions because we feel like we need them to help us express who we are. We hold on to people because we’re afraid of being alone. We carry around our sadness because we would rather feel something than nothing. We try to fill our emptiness with whatever we can.
But sometimes that emptiness is necessary and beautiful. It’s the space left for possibility and hope. It’s what keeps us striving and searching and wondering. It’s what spurs us on.
And it’s important to honor it. It’s important to leave space for that emptiness in our hearts and heads and lives. It’s important to leave room for the future. It’s important to sometimes wipe the slate clean, so that we can begin again, all shiny and new.
The sun was waiting for me at the end of the conveyer belt, making its way down the slope of the sky. A friendly sign told me to go, and have a nice day. I put my foot back on the brake and my hands back on the wheel. I put the car in drive. I pulled out of the parking lot and looked back at the girl ushering in the last few cars, her face alight with her approaching freedom. I smiled. I returned my gaze to the road ahead of me, so open and long and possible. And then I drove away, shining.