Warning Lights

olpic Relationships are like cars.

You laugh, but it's true. You know where else you'd hear something like that? The old show Home Improvement. (Remember that show? So great, right?)

I remember an old episode of the show called "Nothing More than Feelings." (See the bottom of this post to watch the first portion) In this episode, Tim Taylor's wife, Jill, ignores the oil light in her car, which subsequently leads to the engine being shot. She doesn't realize this, of course, until Tim goes to the garage to move her car before he leaves for work. Here's how the dialogue goes after Tim comes back in from the garage, clearly miffed:

Jill: Tim! You're still here? Tim: Oh yeah. How long's the oil light been on, Jill? Jill: Oil light... Tim: The oil light. Next to the speedometer, a little red light with the oil can on it? Jill: Oh, that thing. I don't know. Two or three days. Tim: Two or three days?! It's a warning light--didn't it occur to you there might be a little problem? Jill: I thought if there was a problem with the car, the light would get brighter or there would be a buzzer.

As sad as it might be to know how many of us have similarly neglected our cars, I wonder how many of us are like this with people in our lives.

Someone told me once that we're like vaults. When someone does something to show they care for us, it's like dropping money in the vault. When we're neglected or ignored, we feel a gnawing because our vault is low. It's an okay metaphor.

But I want a metaphor that rocks my face. Like the car metaphor. I like to think we're all like cars who aren't in mint condition, who need constant maintenance. Our oil leaks or burns off, and so we need to replenish the oil or else risk the engine.  Losing me here? Let's turn to Tim Taylor for his explanation of why oil's important to a car:

Tim: Inside of a car is an internal combustion engine composed of many precision parts running at a high RPM. High RPM produces friction. Friction produces heat. Heat is dissipated by lubrication--OIL. When the car doesn't get the oil that it needs, it tends to seize up into a ROCK...We now own a four-thousand pound, four-door boulder.

We are each unique beings, running our own unique engines, going about our lives at a high RPM, producing friction and heat, requiring something to help keep us running.

In a perfect world, we could get a one-time fill of a word of encouragement, a hug, a gift, a conversation, a night out, or a hike in the woods and be good for years.

But we're a little broken. A little bit worn. We don't run at optimal efficiency. We have some gaskets loose. And the effect of those words, those hugs, those gifts eventually burn up or leak out. Some time goes on, and there's nothing to keep the friction and heat of the burdens of our daily lives from grinding us down and breaking our hearts down into glorified rocks.

But most of us treat our relationships (and not just the romantic ones) like one fill-up in a blue moon is enough.

Some of us would never dare ignore the oil light in our cars (although some of us might, and have probably paid good chunks of what could have been Bahamas money), but we ignore the lights on the people around us. Or sometimes we see them, and like Jill, we mistakenly assume that everything's fine until we see the light get brighter or a buzzer goes off to let us know someone's really in danger. Sometimes, we discover too late that the engine's in serious jeopardy.

Once that engine goes, the damage is done.

The road to repair at that point is disproportionately more difficult than the cost of regular maintenance.

Whose light have you been ignoring? Which important people in your life have you been driving and driving and expecting that they will just start up the next time you need them to?

How many of you have been afraid to speak up and say what you need from the people around you? How long have you been riding just above the red line, scraping by on nothing while continuing to push yourself in overdrive?

Just like cars, man. Just like cars.