Thursday, November 05, 2020

Hidden realities

The caption to the Instagram photo above tells two stories. The first, what I was doing, but also why. The latter one I never mentioned before, and it was a kind of a test.

The first story is that a few weeks ago I was in a minor accident in which some guy hit the passenger side door of my car at low speed. My insurance company sent me to a particular panelbeater to get it repaired, and they told me it could be several weeks why the sourced the needed parts: Due to Covid, factories around the world were operating at a fraction of capacity, and then shipping was another problem. It would be faster if they found one easily.

I ended up bringing it in the following week, and two weeks later, today, I got it back looking good as new. They’s also detailed it inside and out, so it looked brand new.

I was really happy to be getting my car back. The loaner car was a 2005 Nissan Tiida, which, I said at the time, “smells like ArmourAll, age, and shame”. The latter refers to the fact that it’s kind of embarrassing to be driving a car like that, knowing it’s because my own car is dented. So, I took to calling the loaner “The Shamemobile”.

In fact, though, driving my own car with the damage on it was more embarassing because I imagined people judging me. I thought that because I realised for the first time that when I see other people driving dented cars my natural instinct is to assume it was their fault, when it obviously may not be. So, I learned something about it.

As it happens, in the time between when the car was assessed and I took it in, I too the car to the dealer for it’s 10,000km service and, among other things, they cleaned up the damage, removing the surface scrapes (but leaving the dent, obviously). It looked so much better after that—barely shameful at all.

I was so excited because I realised that I missed it for its better ride and performance, but especially for all the features I’ve joked about many times to people who know me in real life: The advanced safety features, cruise control, reversing camera, and Apple Car Play, none of which were in The Shamemobile (my own car has a 5 Star Safety Rating, while The Shamemobile is only a 3). Thing is, I never had any of that stuff until this car, so the fact I was already so used to them, and that I missed them so much, really surprised me.

However, the other story is the explanation I included in the caption: “It’s been away for two weeks for repairs after my accident.” I’d never mentioned that fact before then, except to some family members, but not all of even them. At first I was probably a bit embarrassed, and maybe a bit shaken by the experience, but the more time passed, the more awkward it felt to mention it. The caption solved that, and explained why I had the car back to be excited by that fact.

However, there was a backstory even to that: It occurred to me during reporting on the USA’s election disaster that people—and not all of them American—were so distracted by that event that they missed all sorts of things going on with people they know well. Of course, most of the stuff they missed out on was stuff they wouldn’t know about if they weren’t told, and my small accident was one of those things. But, I wondered, how many other things had they simply missed, even when it was right in front of them?

So, I slipped in that little sentence to see if people were too distracted to notice. Honestly, I thought it was possible no one would, but my sister saw the post on Facebook and was the first to ask about it, which is no surprise; she’s good like that. However, if I hadn’t said it, no one would know, and no one would’ve thought to ask questions to find out what was going on with me or anyone else, such was their level of distraction.

I include myself in that: I was too distracted by elections in two countries, plus my grief journey, to pay much attention to others, either. This makes me think that we need better mechanisms to prompt ourselves to ask about the people we know, friends and family in particular.

Some of what we need to do is well covered, like making it safe for people to talk openly with us about their struggles and challenges, even if only so they know they’re not alone. Many of us don’t do that, of course, and we certainly don’t usually proactively ask people how they’re doing. It’s probably just human nature, and I think we need to change that.

My accident wasn’t a big deal, but it did teach me to stop making assumptions, at least about people driving cars with dents. It also reminded me, yet again, that we need to be upfront and open as we feel we can be about what we’re going through. It may or may not make us feel better to do that, but it could make others feel more comfortable in talking about what they’re going though.

Yes, of course. But I’ll freely admit that I’m shallow enough to be excited and happy to get my car back. Because that was the whole reason I made the post in the first place; the social experiment just came along for the ride.

Above left: The Shamemobile. Above right: The damage immediately after the accident. The dealer managed to remove the white scrapes, which were only superficial.

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