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Esteemed Reader: July 2014

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"I once was lost, but now am found / Was blind, but now I see."

—"Amazing Grace"

"I am not my body; it is an instrument for my use."

—Alfred Orage

Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:

The drive into the city flowed as though greased with grace. I worked hard to stay present to my breath and the wheels on the road as I made my way down the Thruway, the Palisades, over the bridge, along the Hudson River, and slid into a perfect parking spot on the Upper West Side with ample time to spare before my business meeting. Stepping from the car, I felt the change in the pace and energy from country to city, and quietly took in the impressions of St. John the Divine Cathedral above the steep cliffs across Morningside Park.

Children played soccer in the field below and I savored their Brownian movements around the field in pursuit of the ball. I took in the statue of Washington and Lafayette shaking hands, feeling the significance of their friendship. With ample time before my meeting, I sauntered through the sunny city streets and stopped for a pour-over at my favorite coffee shop.

The meeting was good and I made my way back, but when I arrived at the place I had parked, I didn't see my car. I looked up and down the street to see if I had misplaced it, without result. The impressions of the place had been so vivid, I felt sure I knew precisely where I had parked, and the car simply wasn't there.

Realizing my car had most likely been stolen, I watched my pleasant state become clouded, like black ink poured into a vessel of clear water. But then I realized this was a fine test of whatever presence of mind I possessed, and I sat on a bench next to a man reading and eating a sandwich. The book was about enneagram personality types, which seemed like it might be meaningful, but then I noticed the stack of other books beside him—with titles like Job Skills 101, and Seven Secrets of Effective Interviewing—and decided not to strike up a conversation. Instead, I began to consider my situation, and determine what to do.

Recovering from the shock, I was surprised to feel a sudden lightness, like the car going missing had lifted a load—there was a freedom in being relieved of my accustomed vehicle. Now, I realized, I would need to transport my body on my own legs, and other means—I would need to take a subway and a bus to get home. The sense of the scene and the park sprung back into vivid focus, but differently than before. Now, there was a quiet soberness, and gravity in the looking.

Steeling myself for action, I called 911 and the operator said I should probably check to see if my car had been towed by the city before reporting it stolen. So I called the traffic police, and began to describe the vehicle to the operator, its color and make and model. As we spoke I walked along the street, and there it was—my car—parked one small block further, just below the statue of Lafayette and Washington shaking hands.

"I have something strange and interesting to tell you," I said to the operator, sounding sardonic, even to myself. "I found my car." She was kind, and didn't rub it in.

I nearly collapsed in the recognition that my seeming state of wakefulness had in fact been so illusory that I didn't notice where I parked my car. It was like I was the butt of the joke about what you get when you play a country and western song backwards (you get your dog back; you get your girlfriend back; you get your truck back...).

Sitting in the familiar cracked leather seat, smelling the old-car smell, noting the layer of dust on the dashboard, I saw everything about it with fresh eyes. Despite feeling quite silly at having misplaced the car, I felt both affection and indifference to the object that had been lost and found in a space of 15 minutes.

Like everything, "car" has an inner meaning also. It is a vehicle that transports a person, and interacts with other cars on the road, much like the persona, and even the body, transport a being, interacting with the experiences of life. Losing my car was like being briefly stripped naked, my essential being exposed to the elements like a mewling babe. Regaining it revealed that I am not my car, or its driver, or fuel; I am the one who is conveyed.

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