Driving home from a beautiful first days of Sukkos we spent at my sisters house in Chestnut Ridge, I realized there are two types of people in this world: Drivers and passengers.
I’ve never been much of a driver, literally or figuratively. After failing my first road test in high school, it took me a full year to conjure up the courage to try again. I don’t think that it was my inability to drive that prevented me from trying again; as the oldest in my family there was a sense of newness and excitement. My father would drive me to the famed Costco parking lot, where many an unsure teenage driver would try their hand at the wheel for the first time, as a parent sat stiffly in the seat beside them, on high alert and ready to bark “STOP!” the minute a wrong move was made.
No, it wasn’t my inability at all. I think it was the idea that I’d have to be vulnerable and accept the possibility of failure again that made me stop and question whether I wanted to retake the test.
“Listen to me, Malkie and listen closely: you’re going to drive,” said my mother, as I once again objected to scheduling another road test. “I don’t care if it’s something you don’t feel comfortable doing, you’re still going to do it. You’ll need it as an adult, and it will open up so many possibilities for you. It might not be comfortable now, but one day, you’ll appreciate having done it.”
So I did it. I practiced and passed my road test and did many a Sunday darchei carpool for my younger brothers. I’d always drive way under the speed limit, much to the frustration and annoyance to my friends, who’d accompany me in the car, only to ask me to pull over at the next light and switch drivers so we could travel at a normal pace instead of my very cautious slow pace.
When I’d schedule an outing with a friend, or plan a road trip during vacation days, I’d always offer to pitch in and drive, but was usually told one of other drivers would do it.
That’s OK. I liked being the passenger. The one who’d go along with whatever, easygoing but never forceful with her own personal opinions, happy to be there with my friends, happy to make 7-Eleven runs for snacks and soda, but please don’t expect me to drive over that bridge. Please. Don’t.
The way I felt being the passenger in the car was the way I fashioned my life. I might have an idea once in a while or might’ve occasionally piped up a correct response in class, but for the most part, I was an under the radar, back of the classroom girl, the one who didn’t speak out of line but certainly didn’t articulate her thoughts out loud either.
Somehow, I met a guy who made me look like a loudmouth and all of the sudden, I was the talkative one in our pairing. I had moments of shyness where I’d just want to blend into the background and not call attention to myself, but I emerged as the outspoken one, the periodic source of comic relief.
In my family, among my siblings, there was a lot to compete with. Big personalities, lots of talking and laughing. In Moshe’s family, it was basically only me cracking constant jokes, while everyone else remained on their best behavior at all times. In the past, I’d be known for making fun of my sisters-in-law weak attempts at fighting and would entertain them with stories from my childhood. “You want to hear about a real fight? I’ll tell you what a real fight is.”
Despite all my talking and entertaining, Moshe did all the “doing.” He was the driver. The one who quietly directed from his office at work, from his office at home, from wherever we were. He did it without fanfare, he did it in the most beautifully modest way possible and never took credit for his success.
As I drove the unfamiliar road home from Chestnut Ridge with my sleeping children in the backseat, getting off more than once at the wrong exit and then getting back onto the right, I thought about how much my life has changed in such a short time. Through no choice of my own, I find myself in the driver’s seat for the first time, and it’s terrifying. I won’t say it’s something I ever wanted for my life. I love a partnership and being part of a team effort, but never did I imagine having to raise five children on my own. Never did I see myself in the driver’s seat, navigating the sometimes dark, winding road of life by myself. I was the trusty passenger seat wife and never even a bad backseat driver, mostly because Moshe’s driving was excellent.
I don’t know why, but the drive home impacted me more than the entire yontif by Dini. Maybe doing something I never would have had to do before threw me into the realness of that drive home.
Thankfully, for the most part, the drive home was much the opposite of our lives as of late — without drama, straight and smooth.
I hope to experience more effortless, simple road trips in our new life, with G-d’s (and Moshe’s) help.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away in March at the age of 40. Malkie has been sharing her thoughts with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. We are privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.