I live in northern Indiana and often drive to Cincinnati, which is a four-hour drive through cornfields and around Indianapolis before the hills and trees of the southern Ohio valley come into view. Earlier this week I was about an hour away from home (I will always call Cincinnati home, even though I have not lived there for years) when the warning lights flashed on the dashboard. First I heard a beep, the check engine light lit up, followed by a funny-looking icon. My car, although it is reliable, is old and I thought about stopping to see what was going on. But the lights went off and so I drove a few more miles.
Then they flickered again. I decided not to risk a forced stop on the highway, took the next exit and pulled into a parking lot near a bank. Something in me said to find a space with no cars nearby, just in case I needed a tow. It was a warm day, a late morning on a busy street, so I was not worried about my safety or the weather.
I have had this car for over 21 years and driven it more than 244,000 miles. Maybe it was time to accept that I would finally have to dip into savings and get a new car. But I did not want to. I check the oil, get it serviced, anything to keep it running. Even after all of those miles, I believed that there was more life in the car if I took care of it.
A quick look at the owner’s manual convinced me that it was a minor problem that could be resolved once I got to Cincinnati, now about 60 miles away. I settled back into my seat and put the key in the ignition, eager to continue on. I turned the key; nothing happened. I turned the key again—no click, no engine starting, the only response was the sound of jostling keys. My car had given out, after all I had done to keep it running.
I have had friendships like this, ones that seemed to fade away even after I tried to keep them alive. I find myself wondering whether it is worth it to keep jumpstarting them or if I should let them go. It could be age; over time I have become more thoughtful and intentional about my relationships. Some friendships are closer, because of years of shared experiences and being there for each other. A few are stronger after a temporary distance, because we came back together, talked and decided not to take the relationship for granted.
But a couple are not going as well. My interests have shifted, perhaps that is part of it. My tolerance for certain behaviors has definitely changed. Things I might have overlooked when I was younger or for which I made excuses, they now make me tired. I am figuring out how much more effort I want to put into these types of friendships. I do not bail out on people easily, but sometimes space is needed, or my acceptance that the relationship may have run its course.
Resigned to the fact that my car needed more than a jump, I called AAA to arrange for a tow to Cincinnati and a couple of hours later, I sat in the service department, handed them the keys and left my car. I was certain that this was it; I would have to buy a new car. Somehow, I could not help thinking that maybe there was something else I should have done to avoid the breakdown. But then again, I always checked the oil, used the right gas, drove safely—what more could I have done?
The next day the dealer called to tell me that car could be fixed. They had to order a part and some belts, but they would have it ready in a day or so. I was relieved. I can drive this car a few more miles, or months, maybe years. I don’t know; I will have to take it one road trip at a time.
I thought about my friendships. I could let some slip away from lack of attention. I could decide that the effort required to be in them exceeds the mutual benefit of trying to maintain them. Or I can remember the memorable trips we have taken through life, the easy, flat roads where we coasted along, the hills and valleys that were harder to navigate but still a part of our journey. I can give it another shot, trying to be more patient, less sensitive or irritated. I might accept that I have done all I can or want to do, and let that be enough.
I have spent so much time in these relationships, depended on my friends to help me make my way through life, and at other times I have been the one to lead the way, to carry them through a tough spot. Tossing aside an important friendship without trying to fix things would be foolish. I have been down this road before; I know the difference between when to let go and when to check if all that is needed is a little repair.