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  • Writer's picturemaggiehsmith07

Downshift

This morning feels as if fall may pay a visit to Virginia. Although, I have been told to temper my expectations of fall in Virginia – the weather not as cool for as long and the color of the trees lacking the vibrancy that we were spoiled with while living in New England.


Yesterday, I was the driver of Andrea’s car, a manual transmission VW GTI, as we buzzed around in pursuit of adventure outside of our four walls. I’ve been learning to drive manual a week now.

“You learning to drive standard has given us a week of something to do during the pandemic!” Andrea remarked yesterday.


My mom had sent us a text that read: “I really admire the interest, the drive to do new things that you two have.”


I have tried to learn to drive manual before but that lesson, as previously mentioned, ended with me getting the car stuck in a small patch of snow at the nearby elementary school. Minus the hills, Virginia is an ideal place to learn to drive standard. People seem unhurried, patient. Yesterday, I watched a guy in a pickup truck lean out his window to talk to a guy in an older sport car. They chatted unhurriedly, blocking traffic at a gas station, while another truck patiently waited for them to wrap up their conversation.


Yesterday, while driving Andrea’s car, I was stopped on a hill (ugh). The light changed and, predictably, her car rolled back towards a van behind me. I panicked. The traffic in the left lane rolled on as I struggled to get the car to drive forward. The guy behind me sat there and waited. This would never have happened in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, the person likely would have honked, gestured at me with their middle finger and asked what the fuck was wrong with me. Yesterday, the guy behind me folded his hands atop his steering wheel and waited for me to get it together, which, I eventually did.


Before moving here, I used to joke a lot about “practicing my southern”. Then I got here and COVID hit, the world seemed to spin a bit more slowly than what I was used to. I signed up for an 8-week, online, mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) course that began in July. It was a pre-requisite to another course. I took the first course for that reason – thinking I could help people learn mindfulness. Of course, I wound up learning a lot myself. Over the 8-weeks, my perspective shifted. Maybe this pace in the south was something to admire rather than laugh at? I certainly have benefited from it while making mistakes on the road. And, instead of wondering, “Why is this happening to me?” (meaning – moving from one state to another during a pandemic when Andrea could have just as easily worked from home in MA), I’m asking, “What is this teaching me?”


I’ve long talked about writing a book but could never quite determine what it would be about. Yesterday, Andrea helped me outline it.


We are living in a difficult time – COVID, racial tensions boiling over, an emotionally charged election looming, closing in. If we downshift (get it?), slowing our typical frenzied pace, and look hard and close, perhaps there is a gift we can extract from the muck.


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