As I’ve sat through the traditionally inspirational speeches of recent commencement speeches, it’s got me thinking about the reality facing most of these graduates.
Along with the promise of new beginnings comes the reckoning of the past and the inevitable missteps that are to come. No one gets through life without them.
But I don’t think we talk enough about rebounding from the mistakes. I know I was not prepared for failure, so I met it with shame and fear, which made it hard to recover.
Like the time I was driving home to Ruby Valley to visit from Reno in probably 1998 or 1999.
When I’d go home, my dad would always chastise me for not having checked my oil. So this time, I was going to avoid that.
Before I left Reno, I put two quarts of oil in my Ford Aspire (It’s aspiring to be a car, my friend Jim Scripps used to say). Since I’ve never been able to read a dipstick, I convinced myself when I got to Winnemucca that I needed more oil.
So I added two more quarts. I remember when I was throwing the empty containers in the garbage, wondering momentarily why there was a picture of a lawn mower on them.
I jumped back in the car, pretty sure my dad was going to be impressed, and getting back on the freeway.
It wasn’t long before I was enveloped in a cloud of black smoke coming from my own exhaust pipe. Panic ensued.
I had no idea what to do except to keep driving. So I did — at about 45 mph until I got to Battle Mountain where I pulled into a truck stop.
A couple of truck drivers saw the spectacle and were looking me over when I pulled in. My intention was to find a phone to call my parents, but I gave them a quick explanation just to satisfy their curious stares.
As it turns out, they were Cuban and didn’t understand English. As it also turned out, I had recently returned from living in Ecuador, so I spoke with them in Spanish.
We experienced a brief confusion when they asked if I had a “gato,” meaning, “jack,” but I only knew the word to mean, “cat.”
Once we straightened that out, they sent me into the store for two quarts of oil and they drove my car to a darkened corner of the lot. They drained out what oil was in there — they said it was more than they had in their big rigs — and replaced it with the new oil.
In less than an hour, I was back on the road, no worse for the wear.
In fact, I drove that car for years longer.
But there’s a valuable lesson there. About mistakes and failures and even sins. We’re all going to commit them.
When we try to hide them or cover them up for the sake of our pride or fear of retribution, we just end up making them worse.
The sooner we acknowledge them — ask for help if we need to — and get back on the correct course, the better off we will be.
And it never hurts to know another language.