A little more than a year ago, I experienced the most expensive car problem of my life. The final bill added up to more than $6,000, including towing charges.
Let’s not forget the several hundred more dollars in car rental fees and being without my car for nearly two weeks when I needed it for my job commuting 100 miles a day to and from my home to work.
The event happened in a blink of an eye, on one of the hottest days of the years, as I was about 15 miles into the return leg of my 50-mile commute back from my job in Salem, Oregon, to my home in Portland.
I never saw it coming. I just happened, though in retrospect, I long knew it would.
Hurtling down the highway at 65 mph in about 95 F heat in the late afternoon, the engine in my slightly aging Subaru Forester literally blew out.
The failure arrived without warning as I saw my dashboard gauges tell me the engine had failed. I quickly checked my surroundings and luckily found myself in a spot without vehicles or reckless semis around me. I coasted calmly to a stop on a safe spot on the Interstate 5 shoulder, next to a farm field and a tree.
In my mind I immediately recognized the unfolding event as a test my character and ability to handle bad luck even before I had put on the parking brake.
How would I choose to respond, I found myself thinking? Would I yell and curse? No. In fact, I immediately realized this was a profoundly fortunate moment.
Amor fati: embacing your fate
I was uninjured, and this happened at a safe place instead of a dangerous one. My car, an inanimate thing, was reparable. I was alive. I realized this could have happened anywhere at many more dangerous locations, and I could have been severely harmed. I smiled.
As for the car, I had no idea what had happened to the engine. The radiator was shot, but I didn’t know how badly the engine block may have been warped. Indeed, the mechanic later told me the block was destroyed, and I faced a decision to scrap the car for parts or install a new engine.
I got a tow after waiting more than an hour from a junkyard tow driver who proved highly knowledgeable about subjects we could freely discuss only as one can with a complete stranger in a strange place. The next day I got my second tow to a shop, where I faced the costly repair decisions.
Within 48 hours I had rented a car for a week, made the decision to replace my engine block, and worked out a plan with my manager to work at home. It was not really as serious as one might have thought it could be.
Ultimately, my life didn’t fall apart despite really bad luck, if you want to call it that.
The experience showed me the joy of not commuting a few days in a row. It confirmed I could not keep doing the job I was doing. In fact, the whole incident confirmed what I knew would happen, that my car would fail doing something that could not be sustained professionally and for my personal health. The job had to go or my health would.
Now, a year later, I have quit that job, I work at home, and I drive the car about once a week. I think it was a clear message from the heavens what to do.
Most importantly, I confirmed a lesson I long knew, as only experience can teach. I again found that bad luck could be the greatest of teachers.
Without bad luck, we can be foolishly tricked into deceiving ourselves that good luck is more desirable. In fact, good luck and the absence of bad luck can easily delude a person into lazy complacency and being unready for when things change. And they always do. There is always a change in the wind, and those who deal with change have dealt with its fickle nature before. Luckily, I was ready and will not forget the lessons I learned last summer.