Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ode to a Dead Van

This past week our van died. We don't usually mourn the loss of vehicles in this home, but I was strangely moved by memories of the 14 years we owned this one. If we were hosting a memorial service, I would read the following letter to our deceased van.

Dear Van,

You left us this week very suddenly, but I'm glad the end happened quickly. There was a certain mercy to the finality of your death. I guess warning signs were happening for a while, but we never noticed your condition until it was too late, and now you are gone from us.

You have left me feeling quieted and introspective. Your passing has occasioned the remembrance of past events and seasons. For fourteen years you were as much a part of our lives as the home in which we lived. And with a quick signature and the passing of a few hundred dollars between hands, you now rest with the dismantler who will oversee your final hours as a single vehicle.

Truth be told, we bought you to use you. You came nice and clean, whole and sturdy, ready for kids and trips and packages and gear. But we didn't drive you the way you expected. Within a few months we sent you to the customizer who shredded your soul and replaced your ordered interior with a lowered floor, a wheelchair ramp, and multiple brackets for tie downs and straps. You must have felt a measure of concern as your original soccer-mom design was tossed aside and you were transformed into a work horse. The conversion added excessive weight which you were never truly built to carry. You looked fat and unappealing, and into your new cavity of an interior we drove a heavy wheelchair and treated you more like utility truck than a family car.

The weight did its damage over time. You were quiet in 2000, mildly noisy in 2008, and an utter rattle-trap by 2013. The heaviness of your conversion and cargo beat you into the ground. Every bump was magnified and every broken road gave you a bruising. I thought the end would come with a transmission failure, but your life concluded with a piston rod jutting unceremoniously out of the hole it blew in your oil pan. You died of a broken heart, I think. You carried our family as long as you could, then ended your service with a bang and whimper—one of the few times you ever left us stranded.

Did you know the weight would kill you? You carried it every day, whether or not the chair was present. We're all like that. The weight never ceases, even when the chair isn't around to remind us. It beats us into the ground, even when the bumps in the road seem small to a typical car. We feel them more deeply, and they break us down over time.

You never complained when we piled our gear around the chair and forced you to take the whole family along with a friend or two (and the cats in their cages) all the way to the cabin. You ran warmer, perhaps, but you got us there. Then you gathered the dust of the mountains all over you for two or three weeks while we tried to give the family a normal vacation. There was no normal, but we did our best. We had no choice about taking you down those roads. You were the only way we could get the chair and its owner away from home and up into the beauty of the woods. You bore the abuse quietly.

I envy you. You have come finally to a place of rest. I know, there will be no future glory for you, no eternity for your soul. You have no immaterial substance to abide forever. But if you did, here is what I bet you would think as you enter the season of recycling and rust: it was your honor to carry the weight. It was your glory to be converted and reassigned for the thankless task of ferrying burdens for a burdened family. It was worth it to be driven to death for the sake of priceless cargo.

I will remember these things, dear van, when I drive past the dismantling yard off highway 65, for you an industrial grave yard, but for me a reminder that it, too, is my glory to carry the weight of priceless cargo. It is an honor to bear the burden of a burdened family, and to be beaten down by the heaviness of it all. The task is its own reward. I hope I bear it as steadily as you did for all those years. Greater love has no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends. Or family, in my case.

Enjoy your rest. Should I die like you—spent, broken-hearted, beaten down, old and worthless, yet filled with glorious purpose, my life will have been a wonderful success.

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