Although I’ve driven automatic transmissions for a couple of decades, I have fond memories of driving a stick shift, moving up and down through the gears, ideally through hairpin turns in the mountains. Back in the day, I even enjoyed downshifting in city traffic approaching a stop sign. When the opportunity arises these days to take the throttle of someone’s standard shift vehicle, I jump at the chance, even if it’s a pickup truck. Yeah, yeah, I could get a sports car today, but, frankly, the memory is as sweet as the actual experience and, to tell the truth, I’m too cheap to shell out the money for a Honda S2000.
I saw an interview with Matthew McConaughey on CBS Sunday Morning. He traced his acting career from playing wild teens to romantic comedies and then to indie films like “Mud.” He then decided to “shift gears” and “un-brand” himself, knowing he would lose income for a while and maybe for good. The new gear paid off when he landed the role of Ron Woodroof, the homophobic HIV positive cowboy who becomes a gay rights crusader in the movie Dallas Buyer’s Club. Now he’s nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars.
We can choose to shift gears, as McConaughey did, but the more common reason to shift occurs when life throws us curves we can’t handle otherwise: an unwanted divorce, getting fired, a prison term, a life-threatening diagnosis, the death of a loved one. We can shift gears or we can stall out and grind to a halt.
I believe that the most fulfilled people are those who learn to smoothly shift gears as in climbing and descending a treacherous but thrilling mountain road. Personally, I don’t like change. I hang onto the known for dear life. But I know I must be ready to shift as needed, whether it’s because I lose the ability to practice, am no longer able to run or dance, or, God forbid, lose my honey, Christine. And, of course, all of these things will happen in one way or another. I think, I hope, I’ve got my hand on the stick.