My mother didn’t drive. At least, not in my memory. I think I’ve heard my brothers talk about her driving around before I was born, but I never saw it. My memories are of my father tooling about in whatever GM car (Always GM; never Ford, certainly not Chrysler, and definitely nothing foreign – we were, after all, in Dayton, Ohio) we had at the moment, with Mom in the passenger seat. I don’t recall ever even seeing her making a move toward the driver’s side of the car.

As a family, we would take long road trips a lot. Brother #2 used to go to Interlochen for high school, so every year we would pile into a station wagon and drive up into the isolated woods of northern Michigan to drop him off in the fall, pick him up at Christmas, or scoop him up in the summer. Dad drove the whole time. Mom would unfold her maps and chart the course. This continued even when brothers #1 – 3 had grown up and moved out: Dad would drive on his business trips to Chicago or D.C. or New York, Mom would hold the maps, and I would be knocked out in the back seat. Same thing when we went to Florida (tell you about that one another time). Dad drove for eight grueling hours til we reached Atlanta, where we spent the night. Woke up the next day and drove another eight while an impatient little kid sat in the back wondering when we would ever get to Disney world. Mom charted the course around the orange barrels and through the congestion in whatever cities we went through.

I never realized it at the time, but Mom was awake pretty much as long as Dad was.

I’m sure she could find her way to any place in the U.S., knew those roads as well as Dad knew them. “This is the Stuckeys where we stopped last year, dear,” she would remind him. “We should just be around the bend from the sign for the next rest stop,” she would tell us as bladders were about to burst. “You can hold it another ten minutes.”

It was, therefore, an issue that was thrown into sharp focus when my mother passed away.

We were all gathered at the hospital, my Dad, my brothers and their S.O.s, my nephews and my niece, my brand spanking new wife and I. Mom had slipped into her last coma, hanging on just barely while the machines connected to her beeped and buzzed away. Brother #3 made it up from Atlanta at last, to find us all there, in a tiny hospital room filled with origami birds we had made, each one a prayer for Mom’s health. As soon as brother #3 arrived, and she was sure that every one she loved was around …

… She left.

Wordlessly, soundlessly. There was no change in the beeps and hums from the machines; the doctors had told us that those things would keep her lungs pumping and her heart rate stabilized as long as there was power.

But her spirit had gone.

I was dumbstruck. I couldn’t breathe.

Brother #2 wailed as though he’d been stabbed.

My father, whom I’d never seen cry, stood with tear soaked eyes, his hands clasped around hers. “Who’s … who’s gonna be my navigator now?” he pleaded.

His Navigator.

It was then that it occurred to me. All those trips. All the plans. All the dreams the two of them shared. Raising four boys. Running a house.

Mom had been the one to chart the course.

Dad had been the one to come up with the destination.

Both equal partners, equal responsibilities in life.

I woke up hella early this morning. Not an unusual scenario these days. Figured I’d bug God for a while.

He reminded me of all of this.

I am not a Pilot. Which explains a lot. Should be pretty obvious, if you know me. I know a million ways to do things, and will happily tell you A) how to do them, B) which one would be the best one for you, given your circumstances and C) why I’m right and you, earnest though you may be, are hopelessly wrong. Navigator – type behavior. However, since I have a Y chromosome, it’s been assumed that I should be the Pilot. Never been comfortable put in that role.

There are some people who are given the task of finding out how to get from point A to point Z, while others have the equally important job of figuring out what point to end up at. Some of us are Pilots. Some of us are Navigators. You put two Pilots together; there’s gonna be drama. Rarely will they come up with the same destination, and even when they do, they will argue incessantly on how to get there. A Navigator paired with another Navigator? Plans and plans and more plans on how to get from one place to another, but nobody can decide where to go, or even where the starting point is. Even if you put a Pilot and a Navigator together, one or the other of them could be mistaken as to their role. A Navigator that thinks she or he is a Pilot is bad news, and vice versa. I should know.

But a top-notch Pilot with a kick-ass Navigator?

There is nothing that can stop the two of them.

words  and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.

  1. […] little while ago, I posted this. In it, I stated that there are Pilots and Navigators; when the two of them can work together, they […]

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