Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Learning to drive at 47

I was petrified. Best just to admit it right up front. 

This was a game of the mind and I was already struggling mightily to find my playing pieces let alone anything resembling a strategy. But I knew it was my chance, it had to be done. 

Let me back up a bit.

At the tender age of sixteen, I simply thought that I was far too cool to take Driver's Ed in Dallastown, Pennsylvania, on the edge of Amish country. And then, allez-hop my parents moved us out to Santa Cruz, California where driving was deemed far less urgent than following around a university student named Lawrence who looked remarkably like Julian Sands in A Room with a View. I should have learned to drive. But then I was in New York, where driving is a non-issue save for the wealthy, which I was decidedly not. My joke was that I could catch a cab like nobody's business (even if that involved showing a bit of leg and waving a twenty on New Year's Eve). And then I moved to Paris. And then Arles where everything was in walking distance, then the tiny village where...it was a real problem that I could not drive and my happiness went down as my dependency on Remi went up. Best just to admit that up front too. I paced until I ate myself up from the inside out. But this is a happy story, I digress.

When I arrived here on March 1st, I had made a list of goals in my head on the plane. So I wrote them out on a post-it note:

- Exercise
- Meditate
- Cut down Xanax
- Reduce Alcohol
- Study for permit
- Learn to drive
- Keep Writing
- Have Gratitude

It kind of brings tears to my eyes to share that with you because I am looking at the post-it note right now. It is still in front of me on my computer where I put it, so broken. I thought that if I could just do those things that maybe I could find myself again. And do you know, I have done all of those things. Am doing, too, present tense.

My Mom's husband Leonard offered to take me out driving for the first time as he has driven for a living for many years. Part of me is still in that car, his really fancy big boat that glides and yet that day I stopped and started around a high school parking lot, so tenuous and uncertain of the weight guided by my hands. Yet he built me up with praise, saying seeing promise. But I shook my head inwardly, knowing I had to find a professional to teach me. It is so different when you are not only no longer a fearless 16 and are too aware of the power of a vehicle. Shapes loom like monstrous shadows, all is a seeming permanent uncertainty, taunting. I had just come out of a bad full-on collision in January that lead to my world falling away from under my feet. Gun-shy doesn't begin to cover me.

And then I called a cheesily named All-Star Driving School who lined me up with my instructor, Bill Riccobono. Isn't that a great name? He is one of my guardian angels, I think. If guardian angels wear baseball caps and chew on rutabaga while they work. Because from the first lesson he understood that this would be a mental game with me. Within the first hour he asked me to drive around a cul-de-sac backwards and that I could do reasonably well, because I was out of my head, out of my forward motion fear. But the rest? For months, I danced around my commitment. I would meditate before each lesson and still end up covered in sweat by the end of it. At times I would shake, others I would cry. I couldn't lie to him in his little car because he saw anyway. This is a man who has been doing this for some time and has seen the gamut. Somehow, Buddhism came up early on and so he knew to reach me on a more spiritual plane to pull me out of my panic, where we could end our session with a "Namaste."

For financial reasons, I had to stop for a while, then he went on vacation, then I had to take a break around when my friend Ellie passed as I truly wasn't doing well. But I had passed my test for the permit in the spring, having only missed three questions. That buoyed me and it turned out that all of the pauses between lessons helped to build my confidence, to let me get used to the idea that maybe I could drive after all. My Mom did not quite trust me enough to take her car out on the roads so around and around the subdivision we would turn, practicing. Parallel parking, backing into a space. Kind of like me finding my way. 

Months passed as I kept looking at that post-it note with hope and anxiety mixed with a "will I be asked to the dance?" longing in my belly. Finally, it was me who did the asking; I learned to drive. I remember laughing the first time that I kicked it up to 80 mph on the highway and Bill's responding, "All right!" in surprise. I could not have done this without him. He coached me wisely and with the calm assurance that I struggled to find within myself. How incredible it must be to work only with clients who are afraid and yet only to assure. He never made me feel like a fool and so I didn't have to beat myself up for the mistakes that everyone makes. After our last lesson, with my test impending the next day, he told me, "Just go for a drive," and had me promise to send him a photo with my certificate after having passed the driving test. 

I did. 

All morning, my stomach was tight and aching; I had not slept the night before with eyes blinking open at the ceiling. I did my best to breathe and to remind myself of what I have learned in Al-Anon, that all I can do is just show up and do "the next right thing." Bill had promised me that the test giver, L, was a "good man" and he was. Having arrived early, I watched L as he coached a young driver that had not even passed the parking portion of the test so that she could do better next time. I knew that I was again in good hands. 

I got into the rental car, as I don't have one of my own. I adjusted the mirrors and pulled the seat up close under the steering wheel to give me the illusion of being more in control. The day...could not have been more perfect as autumn days go - blue sky overhead, yellow leaves falling - all encouraging me in beauty. L explained the parking maneuveurs although Bill had already been over them with me so many times. I did what I had promised Bill - to take each very, very slowly and yes, that worked. They were not perfect, but nearly so.

So I should not have been surprised when L gathered his papers and got into the car for the driving portion but I was. "Ok, here we go," I said out loud. And then explained sheepishly that I would probably be talking to myself out loud a bit, coaching style but not to worry. "Of course not," L replied, "those are often the only sane conversations you can have in a day!" And with that, we both laughed and I went for a drive. 

Of course, I asked "L, did I pass?" as soon as we came to our final stop. He made me wait as he went down through the list of "must-have's" very dead-pan until adding, "and make sure that you smile when they take your picture at the DMV so that it doesn't look like a mugshot." I started to cry, I couldn't help it and threw my arms around him sideways, he didn't flinch. "It has been a very long road," I offered. He nodded. 

So I celebrated with my family that night and today I went to get my license. I did my hair and my makeup but still grinned like a chipmunk for the photo, I couldn't help it. This is one of the biggest things that I have done for myself in my life. Not because it was hard but because I was petrified and yet I found my way through. Not to mention that it was a little more than symbolic. As my wise friend Stephen said, "You are taking the wheel of your life." I am. I did. 

I can drive now. I can take myself to wherever life leads me.

At least I know that I can try.


This was a surprisingly hard post for me to write because I feel incredibly vulnerable about this subject and yet don't feel like I could accurately give you the experience of what this meant to me. Usually, I correct and correct each text for hours until I can't stand to look at it anymore but I can't with this one. So, I am giving myself permission to put this out there imperfectly and just let myself be happy.
Thank you, as always, for your incredible support and kindness.

With much Love and Gratitude, Heather


  1. You've just become much more independent.

    You go girl!!!!!

  2. Woot! Sending huge congratulations. You look great behind the wheel. Time to start another list!

  3. Congratulation, Heather! I am proud of you. Besides your slim self behind the wheel doesn't look much older than 16.

  4. Brava! Brava! Brava! Healther.

    You are now part of the Adult World! Use this as a metaphor for your life. It is now in your hands to take you anywhere you want to go!

    Smiles from Charlotte Des fleurs

  5. Oh my goodness I love how you have written this post! I am grinning from ear to ear and so happy for YOU!!!! what a fabulous feat that you have accomplished...BRAVO!
    I think you can do anything that you set your mind on...just saying it because this is such a huge thing...facing your fears and doing it anyway.

  6. This is so inspiring! One of my dreams is to learn to swim. I have a life long fear, similar to what you describe about driving. I tried a few years ago with a good teacher, then gave up again. You inspire me to give it another try. I feel like I have missed out on something wonderful for years. -Rose

  7. Yea! Look at you! You did it!
    I am so proud of you. This is very inspiring.
    Thank you for sharing all this. Yes, you are being transparent, taking risks.
    But you are growing.

    1. Yes......"Amie Rikke" is quite right (particularly in regard to the value of "Transparency").....you've just far surpassed your previous writings (this is some of your very best)/efforts, etcetera.

      That posting was quite beautiful, Heather. And, yes, I do hope you take a great deal of pleasure, gratification, and encouragement from the community that YOU'VE created....with little-to-no-capital-investment behind you except for considerable talent, some guts, and simple honesty.

      As you’ll know from your private email, I finished a picture for you yesterday (prompted by your last email to me).

      For now, here’s another song for you,,,,and perhaps this is the time to say that I LOATHE driving and always have. I learned to do it when I was fifteen or so (on Tennessee mountain roads with my bossy father yelling at me from the passenger’s seat not to WRECK HIS CAR!!!!...which didn’t do much to allay my anxiety). Suffice it to say that, even now (at age 56) all of my friends and relatives know that I generally don’t accept invitations to anything unless someone wearily adds “..Don’t worry…I’LL DRIVE…..”

      Go to (and bear in mind):


      “Some come in the side door swingin'
      Some eat in the kitchen, but they don't mind
      Some stride in without even knockin'
      Some act like they've been here the whole damn time
      Gonna live my life like it don't get much better
      Gonna walk right in like I own this joint
      Get right down to the heart of the matter
      Live straight to the point
      Straight to the point
      Now, I don't need the keys to the kingdom
      'Cause I don't measure my life that way
      Try as you might to hold on to something
      Sooner or later it's all going to change
      There is no point if the point is not taken
      Most of our prisons are of our own makin'..

      She'd drop dimes and nickels in the jukebox
      And ‘The Glory of Love’ is what she'd always play
      She'd say ‘You gotta be brave, you gotta be fearless
      And when you're afraid just do it anyway’
      So, live your life like it don't get much better
      And walk right in like you own this joint
      Get right down to the heart of the matter
      Live straight to the point
      Straight to the point
      It's all in the tellin', it's all in the story
      It's all in the way that you walk the walk.
      Let your life speak 'cause there ain't no secrets;
      Let your head help, but let your heart talk


      David Terry

  8. Dear girl, you are an amazing inspiration to my 63 year old soul. I hope our paths cross one day.

  9. Congratulations! Courage at any age is commended. It seems once you pass 25 learning new skills for some of us is most challenging. Best of luck for continued success!

  10. Congratulations! Independence and looking fabulous - what a terrific, winning combination.

  11. Look at you! Radiant in the driver’s seat! Brava!

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  13. So very happy for your dear Heather, you look positively aglow in the driver's seat. Congratulations on a huge effort, well done.

  14. Yay!!! You did it! So happy and proud for you!!
    Just a while ago I learnt how to drive/ride a scooter which I found difficult to do as an older person rather than a twenty year old as you are more fearful of consequences and the what if's...so I sort of know the panic and tramping down of nerves when you do your test! I at least had some idea of being on the road. I love it now and know you are going to love your new found freedom!! Enjoy :)

  15. Blog beaming you the music of Route 66 ! hooray for you cool gal, wise woman.

    And making myself shut up before I go on and on.

  16. I bet Ellie's up there cheering you on! Thanks for sharing each milestone with us. Your writing is beautiful and inspiring.

  17. It is a great accomplishment to feel fear and saddle up anyway. Congratulations. Well done.

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  19. Dear Heather, What grand news!! Bravely moving on - taking life in your hands - isn't there some wonderful Irish toast about "may the road rise to meet you"? All of that and more to you as you as you prepare for and return to Provence. Will be thinking of you. Lots of wisdom in that little Post-it note. Even more inside the list maker. In the doing - you are as others have noted - simply glowing. Bravo! xoxo Dorothy

  20. If you can conquer this, the world is at your feet! Congrats!

  21. Heather, I am SO SO thrilled that you did this. I can just imagine what a feat it was for you. I have the same on my 'to do' list, to change over my New Zealand licence to New Hampshire, I have to take the written and driving...I have been dragging my feet for SOOOO long. You have inspired me to do it before the bitter end when my NZ license expires. Well done you! You have endless roads to travel now...you have come such a long way. I look forward to seeing where the road takes you. ;) xxx


    Our grandson will say: I did it.

    You did it, Heather.You did it.

  23. Oh, good for you! Being able to drive gives you so many options, including not driving should you want that.
    It also gives you self-reliance and wider horizons and the possibilities of many new and wonderful experiences. Bill sounds like a truly great teacher.

  24. Congratulations! You pushed through the fear and uncertainty and succeeded! Way to go!

  25. Bravo Heather! Its never too late to learn something new and exciting!"When a door closes then a window is opening"!

  26. Gosh, I love all the wonderful comments here. What a lovely group of people. Congratulations, Heather, on facing a dragon and coming out the winner! Thank you for this beautiful post.

  27. Fantastic, the places you will now be able to go, it will change your life I promise. Another thing to tick off the list, another great accomplishment. See you can take on the world xx

  28. I am thrilled for you Heather. Well done, well deserved. You have worked hard. For some reason the song "Me and Bobby McGee" came to might. Freedom is just another word for nothing else to lose.....la la la

  29. Fabulous news, Heather. Learning to drive, overcoming fear, forging ahead anyway...this post was inspiring. I felt your pain and your joy. You are a wonderful writer. XO

  30. BRAVA! I am a reluctant driver and it frustrates me sometimes how it limits adventures. You should be so proud of yourself for this terrific milestone.

  31. HUGE. REALLY. HUGE. Starting at your advanced age! After that terrible head on collision too. I had no idea you were this close to getting it. You are one brave and mobile girl!

  32. Woohoo!!! You have conquered this, a mountain in your mind. There is not anything you cannot do!!! So happy for you:)

  33. Oh my goodness!! Congratulations!!

  34. Congratulations, Heather! And just to let you know, I have some understanding of your initial fear of driving. I wasn't afraid when I learned as a teenager (I grew up in Flint, Michigan, dad was an engineer - it's just what everybody did), but when I went off to university I never had a car, and since those days I have spent over 20 years living in Vienna, Austria, where I haven't needed one. In truth, I haven't sat behind the wheel of a car in 8 years and am more than apprehensive to come home and have to do it! You are truly an inspiration, and I will remember you and this post this season when I take those first couple of spins again around the block, then maybe a mall parking lot and a couple of back roads, and who knows - I may even try parallel parking in Ann Arbor. OK, not parallel parking in Ann Arbor, but I will get on the highway to get there :)

  35. Congratulations!!! I was already wondering what happened to the driving. I am so happy for you and I know exactly how difficult that was because I went through this in the beginning of this year. Learning to drive with 46. Its tough the older you get. The teacher in the driving school told me there where people, mostly woman who learned to drive with the age of 60. Wow.

    And you really had very difficult circumstances to learn it. And you did it. Chapeau! You accomplished everything so brave and fast. You may think otherwise, but no, you did all this very fast!

  36. You go girl! Just turn up that radio and drive!
    Any and all things possible on the open road ahead! Mwahs, xx

  37. YOU DID IT!!!!!! I couldn't be happier for you. Here's to the open road ahead!!

  38. Congratulations, you did it ! This is such a large step !

  39. I'm so happy for you....you can conquer anything now. Maybe not this year...but next year for sure we will have that coffee or glass of...

    Ali xx

  40. My friend was in a similar place as you were. Her goals to find who she was and could be were to learn to ride a horse ( fear of horses), to scuba dive (greater fear of water) and to learn to play an instrument (fear of success). She accomplished all. She has never riden a horse again or gone diving but now performs in a church music group. After a time she found out she could do anything she wanted to do. She is a hero to me and so are you!

  41. Oh Heather. So happy for you. I firmly believe that if you take that first step....
    Good things will happen. You stepped out of your comfort zone and the driving instructing was your angel. I know angels are not in you belief system...But I truly believe we have angels on earth. I could write a book about the ones that appeared in my life...when I was going through a similar experience. They only came to my rescue...when I took the first step. so keep on stepping out there. janey

  42. Beautiful, wonderful, lovely, honest Heather! I am so very proud of you! Congratulations! This is so exciting! I am so proud of you. My friend, I know that this has been an incredibly difficult road for you, believe me, and I am certain that you are going to be fine and that things that you only dreamed of are coming before you.

    Keep up the great work my dear, you have so many people rooting for you.

    Much love, xoxo Elizabeth

  43. Good for you! 16 year olds are fearless and think they can do anything but we all know how hard it is to those same things as we grow older. You will love the freedom driving brings you.

  44. I think you might like this post. http://www.lisaleonard.com/blog/the-meaning-behind/the-unexpected-gift

    Hope you are having a great day.

  45. What a wonderful accomplishment and how very brave you are to share with us!

  46. I'm thrilled for you! This a a major, major accomplishment! Another notch in the long path you have been on, to regain a path that is right for you. You are to be commended for accomplishing this very difficult task, a big hurdle. Mes felicitations or should I say Bon Anniversaire, as it truly is like a birthday - you're being reborn daily and this is a red letter day! Happy trails to you - so great to be able to go where YOU want to go!!
    Bisous, Judi

  47. For your entertainment, from Agatha Christie's autobiography: "The first time I drove the car alone was one of the worst ordeals I have ever known. I was shaking with fright, but I managed, nevertheless, to get on reasonably well. I stalled the engine once or twice by braking rather more violently than I need and I was rather chary about passing things, which was probably just as well. The worst moment was when I had to get myself into an extremely narrow garage, next to our neighbours'car. These people lived in the flat below us. The wife reported to the husband:"I saw the first floor driving back this morning. I don't think she has ever driven a car before. She drove into that garage absolutely shaking and as white as a sheet. I thought she was going to ram the wall, but she just didn't!"
    It was circa 1925 but you get the point!!!

  48. Oh Heather, congratulations! Driving IS a huge, huge deal and one I think too many people take too lightly. I got teary at your throwing your arms around L, at the end. Well done!!!!!

  49. Wow, Heather! Look at you! There is no stopping you now! For me, there is nothing like getting out there on the open road to see what adventures await! I hope you take full advantage of this new-found freedom! ! ! Congratulations! ! !

  50. Great job, Heather. You worked through it, methodically, and, when the time was right, on a perfect fall day in SE Michigan, you passed all of those tests. You are on your way :)

    You can drive my "boat" (Pathfinder) anytime. I still remember a head-on collision I was in when I was fifteen in front of my high school... but everyone healed, and my life of driving myself started soon afterward.

    You are off to a solid start. Hope to see you around and behind a steering wheel soon. Actually, the sunshine in your photo works perfectly... the "rays of God" are all around you (or call them what you will).

  51. So wonderful that you got here! It's a huge step, congratulations! I dragged my feet learning to drive. Not quuuuite as long as you but I had been in an accident and it really terrified me. But it feels so good to conquer it!

  52. Fantastic news!!! So happy for you and this new found freedom.. Congratulations Heather.. Brilliant xxv

  53. Heather,

    Just check in on you, how are you? I hope that all is well and that you are zipping around with your new found driving skills.

    Take care,

  54. Hello everyone! I am simply too overwhelmed by everyone's kindness here. So please forgive my rudeness if I am not responding individually - at least not yet. :) I am truly, truly grateful for all of your love and support...not to mention wicked proud to be the engine of such an amazing community.

    With much Love and Gratitude,

    PS. Beep, beep!

  55. Such a great accomplishment! Congratulations!

  56. I did not have the confidence to take my driving test till I was over 40 so I completely understand this.
    Its a massive thing to be able to get up and get yourself any place you want to go..


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