Caring for a parent, Self-care

Check Engine

CuRVy—my 20-year-old Honda CRV with more than 291,000 beautiful miles on her—and I are well acquainted with the check engine light. My friends from my years in Raleigh, NC (you know who you are) considered the light an indicator to check one’s internal engine. In fact, CuRVy’s light was on when I decided it was time to return to the Pacific Northwest.

Three under the hood.

Two weeks ago, after I had been ignoring the light’s steady glow for a couple of years, it started flashing. My favorite mechanics, who had said all along it was the catalytic converter that I have opted not to replace, said it might be clogged now. “It might be fine for a while,” the Muffler Man said, “but don’t go to any remote places.” I replaced it.

I hadn’t even had time to get used to the light being off, when it started flashing again last week. “Miscellaneous misfires and spark plug misfires,” the computer said. “You haven’t had a tune up since 2013,” the mechanics said.

A tune up. There’s an interesting metaphor. When your check engine light comes on, get a tune-up. Brilliant.

A new friend asked if I wanted to go to a day retreat with her in June. Way up north; a three-day outing considering the distance. I had seen the announcement for the workshop—art, journalling, exploring what we want in our lives using tarot—but I hadn’t considered going, for goodness sake. But my check engine light is flashing. Maybe it’s time for a tune-up. But be impulsive? Yikes. We each drew a tarot card for discernment. I drew “strength”: embrace your fears, step out of your safe place. She drew “seven of air”: trust the journey; make plans but leave room for serendipity. We signed up.

I got the tune up for CuRVy on Monday morning. Monday afternoon, the light started flashing. They couldn’t find anything wrong, but tightened up some connections. Tuesday it snowed, I didn’t leave the house, at least not in the car.


Yesterday, the light started flashing again. I sat in the mechanic’s waiting room for an hour and a half—had a tootsie roll pop and M ‘n Ms for lunch—but they couldn’t find anything wrong.

No idea what this was for, but there has to be a metaphor.

I realize now, that further failure of the catalytic converter probably wasn’t why the light started flashing. There was something else going on that the known converter issue was masking.

What hidden course adjustments are stirring in me? I’ve been taking art classes and ukulele lessons. I’m going to Seattle University’s “Search for Meaning” conference on Saturday (where I’m sure the Florida school shooting will be a topic of discourse; this country’s check engine is flashing and the car is going to die if there’s no tune up soon). I’m going to a writing retreat next week and I signed up for that tarot retreat. I’m beginning to contemplate a new endeavor for Three of Earth Farm and got a second affirmation of that last week from yet another fortuitous Airbnb booking. What else?!

My heart is open.

Smashup Studio Love Bytes at Hubbub

Meanwhile, back at the Manor, my mom continues to express gratitude to me when I take my leave. Her check engine light has been on lately too, and she has listened. She unnecessarily apologizes for being “so much trouble,” then thanks me for all I do. Yesterday she said “I’m sorry I make your life so hard.” I told her I’m sorry her life is so hard. I told her I admired her perseverance in spite of it all. She sighed, “I get so impatient with people.” I suggested maybe she could work on that.

Truth is that I understand; though I would be impatient and angry with my body, which is pointless and I am working on acceptance of the small quirks now in anticipation of the future big ones. I don’t quite understand what she wants from people. An unfamiliar hospice nurse saw her this week. “How was she?” I asked. “She was vague,” she said. I said I guessed she didn’t have any solutions.

A note from our private caregiver said Mama’s complaints to the nurse were: “I would like better spinach; I don’t like white beans, I want black beans; the air in the hall isn’t fresh enough; my back is cold in bed.” The nurse had no help for her except “maybe an electric blanket.”

Rebecca and I keep Mama supplied with Dove dark chocolates, as much for us as for her. They get me through the complaints. Yesterday’s wrapper affirmed my impulsive workshop registration.


I read recently that the original hospice was a resting place for pilgrims. We are all pilgrims on a journey toward the end of life, and we take different routes to get there. When the check engine light comes on, get a tune-up, get new spark plugs, look around under the hood to determine what’s not working and fix it. Enjoy the ride.

An eagle just flew right by the window. I rarely see eagles here. The Universe is speaking and is going to get through to me one way or another.


7 thoughts on “Check Engine”

  1. Clearly, the “check engine” light displays strata of teleological meaning that must carefully be pulled apart and inspected with Kantian rigor. Or, maybe you should just buy a new car that won’t suddenly explode on a remote mountain gravel road 32 miles from a tow truck. heeheehee

    Liked by 2 people

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