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On the Corner

By Robert Docter –

Life is a lot like an automobile.

The auto has great potential–its engine quietly poised in readiness under the hood. Sometimes this great power base looks neat, clean and orderly, but more often, grease and dirt disguise its shape, and occasional oil drips meander through tangled bits of hose and wires.

It’s definitely complicated, and it usually needs a steam cleaning.

When it starts–oh, when it starts–and tuned for maximum power, it revs and roars and rumbles with a magnificent tone that sends an optimistic message to whomever grips its energy.

But when that engine is out of time there is no roar or rumble, only what seems a desperate struggle of mismatched parts to function in any kind of coordinated manner. Black smoke erupts. The roar becomes a clank. It bucks and shakes and says “I’m not going anywhere.” Something is not firing right. It’s out of time.

On cars I used to drive and even now, the mechanic shuts it down and, with his chalk, highlights a line on the harmonic balancer–that flywheel spinning on the front of the engine. With his strobe light poised and flashing its rhythm with energy from the #1 spark plug, he can tell exactly how far off the timing is. The object, of course, is for the gasses in the cylinder to fire exactly when the piston is top dead center. The gasses have fully compressed, and the explosion drves the piston down at precisely the correct moment to keep it in harmony with the other four or six or eight trying to do the same thing.

You see, the piston doesn’t have a choice in the process; it has to move in conjunction with the others. They are all on the same crank shaft. The timing is adjusted with a slight turn of the distributor, a re-check with the strobe, and then setting the distributor in place.

Now, of course, the engine might be purring like a kitten, but the car isn’t going anywhere unless someone puts it in gear. This is handled by the transmission. It harnesses the energy of the motor to the wheels in such a way that the car can be started and slowed and stopped. It’s a power regulator.

Have you noticed that some struggle to move forward in life, but for some reason or other they’re out of time. The timing is off for them. They seem to be going up when they should be going down. They fight the energy that could drive them. They continually fire at a time different from top dead center. They are unsynchronized with their world. Sometimes the timing is so far off they simply get stuck somewhere. They can’t move. They’re clanking and struggling and bucking away, but the only product is a lot of loud backfires–explosive pops accomplishing nothing. Don’t you get the feeling that people like that need to have their #1 cylinder hooked up to a strobe light?

Hey, look in the mirror! Everybody needs a tuneup once in a while. It’s not a big deal. It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and if you go to someone who can genuinely help, problems can be remedied.

We don’t have to stay stuck in life. Nobody goes anywhere until they get themselves in gear–until they maximize the transfer of power from the engine to the wheels. This requires putting the transmission in drive. Then, of course, we take control of the vehicle–of our lives–and decide where we’re going to go, how fast we’re going to get there, how sensibly we’re going to drive, and how much attention we will pay to the rules of the road.

What freedom is ours when our lives are in tune–sailing along life’s super highway. We can all think of a multitude of lessons. What are yours? I need to remember to stay on the correct side of the road–watch out for hazards–be mindful of others–follow the rules–and keep re-reading every word in bold print above. Then, I’ll get where I’m going.

Those who have ears to hear. Let them hear.

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