I’m a Brother on Cruise Control Unless the Road Leads toward Unfamiliar Terrain

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Photo courtesy of D. Kevin McNeir
By D. Kevin McNeir
Executive Editor
www.njurbannews.com 

We live in an age suddenly dominated without warning by uncertainty, anxiety – even fear and trepidation because of the coronavirus pandemic and how it has already and will continue to impact nearly every aspect of our existence – even causing seismic shifts upon the very planet itself.

And while some modes of live once taken for granted will undoubtedly morph like a shape-shifter – never to be the same again, there will be ages-old fixtures that survive. In my family, we’ve, so far, held fast to a few of our traditions, like one rite of passage that every little boy, and a few girls, in our “clan” grows to anticipate – anxious to confront and conquer “it.”   

Growing up in a city like Detroit, the automobile, thanks to the ingenuity of men like Henry Ford and Walter Chrysler, has long-held center court serving as a prerequisite for anyone seriously reaching for adulthood and independence. Back in the day, you knew manhood was within your grasp – even yours – when you finally had your own ride. Not a hooptie or a Fred Flintstone-esque, gas-guzzling, excessive exhaust emitting hand-me-down vehicle that you had to get out and push, on occasion, to get it going. Not one of those cars that was liable to break down at a moment’s notice – just when you needed it most.

No, we were on the lookout for that certain “something-something” with soft leather seats slightly cool to the touch, emitting that just-off-the-assembly-line aroma that comes with all new cars recently driven off the dealer’s lot.

I remember the day when my father turned over the keys to a brand-new Toyota Celica GT – a five-speed stick shift, with a hatchback, a bumping stereo system and cruise control. Toying with the words of Dickens, “it was the best of times – it was the “best” of times.

I was 21 and about to graduate from the University of Michigan. And that car, borrowing a phrase my son has used on occasion, was a guaranteed “chick magnet.” 

What I liked most about that coming-of-age roadster, however, was the cruise control which I used with great aplomb whenever I ventured onto highways where the posted speed allowed me to let the windows down, push the car to its limits and zoom past Sunday drivers as I rode off into the proverbial sunset.

But with COVID-19 having exerted itself into the human storybook, seizing control and already changing the terrain, we have no other option but to find new ways to adjust to a strange world that continues to transform in new manifestations each day – new avenues, alternative pathways, unfamiliar highways. Today we have gadgets and gizmos to assist us when we’re behind the wheel. Decades ago, I had to pull off to the side of the road and refer to my map for directions. Now we have Alexa, Siri and VZ Navigator lighting our path, announcing directions in any voice we choose. 

Nonetheless, it might be unwise to engage your cruise control and relinquish your hold on the reigns if you’re facing unfamiliar roads. After all, you can’t honestly claim the captain’s hat if you’re reluctant to stand front and center behind the wheel.

I am reminded of one of my favorite parables: Matthew 8: 23-27. As the story goes, Jesus and several of his disciples were in a small ship, making their way across the sea of Galilee when a mighty storm appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. But it was more than a storm – it was a “tempest” – one so powerful that the waves covered the ship.

The disciples feared for their lives – caught in a web of uncertainty, overcome by doubt and unsure if this man, Jesus, truly had the ability, the power, to help them escape the inevitable jaws of death. Despite the chaos surrounding them as their ship tossed to and fro, Jesus simply stepped forward and “rebuked the wind and sea.”

The disciples, thinking they were going on a relaxing boat ride, forgot the importance of remaining alert when one’s headed into the unknown. Without Jesus’s intervention, their decision to engage the cruise control would have resulted in a tragic end – their deaths.

While we may not face being shipwrecked or drowned on a modern-day sea of Galilee, we, like the disciples, find ourselves caught within the midst of a tempest, the coronavirus pandemic, which has illustrated, at least for now, the futility of looking to or depending on long-established patterns of navigation.

I cannot claim that I don’t have my moments of doubt about today or the future with COVID-19 – the tempest – lurking on every corner, looking over my shoulders and invading my thoughts.

But I am far from despondent, down-hearted and depressed.

One could say that, following the advice of the captain of that ship on the sea of Galilee – my chosen captain – I’ve already turned off the cruise control.

And while I have placed my hands firmly on the wheel, I remain fully-aware of the fact that I am merely the co-pilot and that the pilot stands with me at the helm – always.

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