September 30, 2012

Pause, pray, breathe

Most of us have had that feeling. You hover over the key to your car for just a moment, hoping that it will turn over and fire up. Your car is a bit of a beater, and it has become somewhat unreliable. It has failed you often enough that you stop for a moment, and say a silent prayer before turning the key. If only electricity would flow, fuel would fire, compression and expansion would translate into spinning shafts and forward motion. "Not this time, not this time, I have so much to do today", and turn...

Every roar of the engine meant you could make it to work, earn your living, and dream of a more reliable car you didn't have to worry over. Every time the key only produced a faint clicking, you knew your day had gone sideways. My first car was a beater Mustang I drove for twelve years. I carried around a full toolbox in my trunk, along with jumper cables and various vital fluids. My car failed me often enough that I learned how to work on engines. Though they are complicated machines, it comes down to two main systems, fuel and electricity. Whenever the engine failed to fire, I knew where to start looking.

After years of driving a more reliable car, every morning and every evening you hop in your car and think nothing of the myriad of systems that make the internal combustion engine possible work. You get used to everything "just working." Until it doesn't.

After work yesterday, I turned the key and nothing happened. Luckily, Sean had not left so we both went to work on it. Unfortunately, with newer vehicles, there is less recognizable when you pop the hood. There is no carburetor to tweak, no distributor to time, no accessible spark plug wires to clean. Now with fuel injection and chip timed electronics, the basic systems I used to understand are buried out of sight. Since the engine wasn't even turning over, I brought out the jumper cables I still carry around.

The car did not respond, so we monkeyed with wires and crawled underneath to check connections. I don't know what we did, but the truck eventually fired up. I stopped on the way home to let Kristy's dog out. I couldn't exactly leave the car running, but I did park on a hill in case I needed to compression start the engine (the beater car knowledge never fades away entirely). I paused over the key, but this time it fired right up, as it did the next time as well. Relief. Then later that night, when I had gone back to taking a functional car for granted, only silence followed the turn of a key.

After futilely trying to jump start it again, and talking about how I would get home and where I would tow the car, I figured out it was a short in the battery cable. I spent yesterday taking things apart, and when I soaked the copper cables in a baking soda solution, there was a satisfying eruption of bubbles as the corrosion was carried away with the foam. After the repair, I was pretty confident that the engine would fire up, but there was still that pause, that hesitation, the silent prayer that everything would be OK.

These days, I experience that moment of uncertainty in a different way. Every morning when I wake before Sierra, and every time I arrive home and walk noisily past her head with no reaction, I pause. Is it just that she is very tired, nearly deaf, or is this the time she won't wake and fire from slumber. I stop and quietly check that her chest is still rising and falling. She had a bad week recently, and I wondered if what was going on meant more than it appeared. Was this the tipping point that she wouldn't come back from.

She, like the car, recovered, but there is no doubt that both are slowly breaking down. There are fewer days in front of them than behind. I try to do as much as I can to lengthen their days, but at some point it will be out of my hands. Every morning Sierra wakes up with a wagging tail is a blessing. Every health hiccup, mess on the floor, or change in routine is worthwhile to be able to see that ray of light each day.

Though pausing over her is a more regular routine, I am sure I will still be blindsided when the day comes that she fails to fire up. I just keep silently chanting, "Not today, not today."


Me said...

I walked right into that one... ugh... I will remember every word of this post while I brush out the beast who is getting his bath right now. I hear you my friend, I hear you.

Spicy said...

Thank you for the reminder to appreciate every moment.