Monday, June 11, 2012

Class Distinctions

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I travel quite a bit for my job. That gives me the opportunity to sample a number of different rental cars. Normally, I get cars like the Chevy Cruze, or the Toyota Corolla. Last week, I was shocked and surprised to find a Mercedes C-class sedan waiting for me at Hertz Rental Center at Boston's Logan International Airport. I didn't know what mistake someone made to place this vehicle at my disposal, but, since I have never driven a Mercedes before, I was not going to complain. Although the C-class is a four door sedan, it was quite sporty, almost sexy. The interior was covered in buttons to automate just about everything on the car. The sun roof was a nice touch, although it rained all week so I did not get to take advantage of it. All in all, it was a pleasure to drive this marvelous machine for four days.

This week, I was surprised to find that I was once again being graced with a Mercedes from Hertz. This time it was a E-class four door sedan. Imagine my excitement at being lucky two weeks in a row. I must admit that my hopes for an even more enjoyable experience were high. After all, the E-class is the next step up from the C-class. At first glance, the E-class appears to be luxury at its finest. Leather interior, individual climate control, sun roof, satellite radio, and much more, giving the feeling of ultimate driving pleasure.

I have now driven the E-class for one day. Where the C-class made one desire to drive it to the ends of the earth, the E-class makes one desire to drive it off the end of the earth. Preferably into the fiery pit of hell. The C-class Mercedes had pep, spunkiness, energy, excitement. On the other hand, the E-class is like imagining your parents having sex. You know that it must have happened, but every fiber of your being finds it wrong in every possible way.

Let's start with the fake wood trim that is present all over the interior. I have never understood why car manufacturers feel it is necessary to create pieces of plastic that look like wood and put them in a car. Am I supposed to be fooled by this, thinking that maybe they went to great lengths to carve the interior of the car out of a single hundred year old Oak tree? It's cheap plastic ... No one is fooled. Then there is the gear shift. In the C-class, the gear shift was between the two front seats and looked, surprisingly, like a gear shift. You knew when you have put the car into park because of the position of the gear shift. The E-class has a gear shift that comes off of the steering wheel console and looks like a turn signal. To put the car in park, you press a button on the end of the so-called gear shift. The only indication that you have put the car in park is a small sign on the dashboard. I guess you could wait to see if the car jolts forward, smashing into anything in front of you when you lift your foot off the brake, to find out that it isn't in park. But, why?

Now, I want to talk about acceleration. When driving the C-class, one felt like the power of the gods was at one's fingertips. The E-class, on the other hand, is slower than a turtle stuck in Super Glue. Where the C-class' zero to sixty acceleration is measured in seconds, the E-class should be measured in minutes. It's like watching the launch of the space shuttle. You reach zero, the engines ignite, but the shuttle still just sits on the launch pad for a minute before taking off. Because of the acceleration, I feel like I need to keep at least three miles between me and any other car in front of which I might be pulling.

Finally, there is the size. The E-class doesn't look big from the outside, but when you are driving, it feels like the front grill is fifteen minutes ahead of the rest of the car. It feels like I am driving the Titanic, without adequate warning, I'll hit every iceberg around. It feels like this car was made specifically for people that won't drive over ten miles an hour ... Ever.

This all raises the question of what went wrong at Mercedes? They made such an awesome car with the C-class, then came the E-class and someone said "Let's not do anything that worked with the C-class, and instead take a chapter out of Yugo's business plan". It is just all wrong. I want to love this car because it is a Mercedes, but I just can't. I can't shake the thought that this should be a really awesome car, but it just isn't. There is definitely a distinction between the classes. After my four days are up, I will be glad to hand this Mercedes back over to Hertz, looking forward to the Toyota Sentra that I will most likely end up with next week.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Maybe It's Not All That Bad After All

I am, I must admit, a complainer. And, perhaps, a bit of a pessimist. One might also call me a whiner. And, why not? There are so many things in life to complain and whine about. I never have enough money for ALL the things that I want. There is never enough time to do ALL the things that I want. My job requires that I travel every week, which may sound cool until you have done it for four and a half years. Living out of hotels Monday through Thursday can really suck. I don't have my dream job (which, by the way, is mattress tester). So, as you can see, I've got it rough.

At least that was what I have been thinking over the past several months. I won't lie and say that everything has been perfect. I have been struggling with these things for a while now. My attitude has been severely impacted by "what I don't have" and "what I can't do". However, two things have happened over the past few weeks that are opening my eyes to a single thought. Maybe it's not all that bad after all.

A few weeks ago, a couple that I know from my church, Sam and Kristen, were facing a tragedy that was, not only sudden, but heart-wrenching. Ethan, their 20 month old son, was rushed to the hospital with uncontrollable seizures. After being brought back, miraculously, from a cardiac arrest, he fell into a coma with little hope of recovery. Like most people in my church, I was glued to my mobile phone, checking Facebook constantly for an update. It seemed like Facebook was on fire with posts about people from all over the world who were praying for Ethan. In the end, Ethan passed away. After that, life went back to normal for me. The brief distraction was now gone and I was back to focusing on the hardships of MY life.

Around the same time, I started reading the Book of Ecclesiastes. If you ever read Ecclesiastes, you were probably close to suicide before you reached chapter three. It is not the most cheerful book, and probably not the best book to read when you are already whining about life. For those who have not read Ecclesiastes, the recurring theme in the book is "It is all meaningless". One might consider it to be the ultimate demotivator. For example, verse eight of chapter one say "Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content." That certainly makes me want to jump out of bed in the morning.

So, how do these two events, which seem in no way connected, impact my life enough to make me want to write about them?

It started this morning as I was scanning through recent updates on Facebook. I came across a post with a link to a blog that Kristen had started writing. She was opening her heart to the world, not only about the pain that she was enduring, but also the life lessons that she learned from her 20 months with Ethan. The blog entries were sometimes touching, sometimes heart-wrenching. Kristen's blog opened my eyes to a level of pain that I have never experienced. But, it also opened my eyes to a level of faith that was inspiring. When I had finished reading her blog entries, I went back to Ecclesiastes, reviewing my highlighted verses from the past few weeks. Three verses jumped out at me, starting in chapter five: "Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life - this is indeed a gift from God"

Then came chapter six: "Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don't have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless - like chasing the wind."

And finally, chapter seven: "Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked? Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. Remember that nothing is certain in this life."

I will probably never suffer the level of pain that Kristen and Sam have suffered. But, through their ordeal, they have set an example of how to accept their lot in life. They are doing what is written in Ecclesiastes, chapter seven. When I look at the things in my life that I call "hardships", they don't even compare. I complain about having to travel for my job. A job which pays for my house, cars, kayaks, insurance, Internet, computers, mobile phones, food, and other gadgets. I was going to add wife to that list, but I was afraid how it might be taken.

My point is that I am starting to realize that my suffering might not be all that bad. Sometimes, I think we, as humans, miss what is around us and focus only on our own little world of suffering and despair. We create a kind of tunnel vision that only sees our circumstances. We amplify our suffering to the highest level, as if it is the worst that any person has ever endured. We fail to consider what others may be experiencing. Then, along comes a tragedy like that which Sam and Kristen are enduring. It makes one take a long look at life and realize that maybe it's not all that bad after all.

As chapter seven says, I need to "accept the way God does things". I can dream of things that I don't have, but as chapter six says it's "like chasing the wind". Where is the pain from not having some material object? Where is the suffering with spending a few nights a week in a hotel (other than getting a really bad mattress)? Where is the hardship in having a job, house, cars, kayaks, insurance, Internet, computers, mobile phones, food, and a wife? There is none when you compare it to those who do not have those things. Where is the pain, suffering, and hardship in all of those things compared to a couple who have just lost their son? If Sam and Kristen can endure the worst pain of their lives, why can't I endure the small inconveniences in my life?

Maybe it's not all that bad after all.