A Conversation with Marcus Aurelius at a Suburban Car Dealership
The following post is based on a true event. However, some dialogue and the sudden appearance of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor and philosopher in a suburban car dealership were invented. This invention was necessary to warm my spirit and nourish my withering imagination as Cindy and I traversed the painful path of buying a car this week.
The Titanic sunk in two hours and forty minutes.
The Anglo-Zanzibar War was fought and resolved in forty-five minutes.
Bob Dylan wrote “Blowin in the Wind” in ten minutes.
Yet, on President’s Day, Cindy and I spent five hours and five minutes in a car dealership buying a car to replace the car that was totaled last week in the Valentine’s Day Massacre. It’s 2022. The age of instant banking, instant credit approvals, and instant pot dinners. Computers hang in our pockets. We can download War and Peace, buy a plane ticket to Chicago, and order a new couch while sitting on our old couch, in minutes. But why, for the love of Amazon Prime, does it still take so long to buy a car?
In 2014, edmunds.com conducted a survey to rate the stressfulness of car buying. The survey concluded that buying a car is more stressful than “getting married” and “doing taxes” was more welcoming than “buying a car.”
This past week mentally, physically, and spiritually drained me.
I replaced reading books with reading articles like, “5 Myths about Buying a New Car”,”11 Things to Avoid Saying to a Car Salesperson” and “20 Questions to Ask a Car Salesperson.” As my body healed from last week’s accident, I spent hours online comparing cars, texting car salespeople, and test-driving cars. I was consumed with dread having to buy a car. My routine of reading and writing in the recliner, drinking coffee, and listening to Miss Maggie May fart were supremely disrupted.
Maybe I was dehydrated or malnourished or both but as I waited in a cheap chair at the car salesman’s desk for him to return from a meeting with his manager about our offer, I saw Marcus Aurelius, the wise Roman Emperor staring deeply into, save for a bag of Salt and Vinegar potatoes chips, a barren vending machine in the corner of the car dealership showroom.
I turned to Cindy and whispered, “I think that’s Marcus Aurelius!”
“The Roman emperor. The founder of Stoic philosophy.”
“Really? I mean, he is wearing a toga and sandals.”
“Oh Christ, he’s coming over here.”
A hand clasp my shoulder. It’s firm and heavy and reminds me of my grandfather’s clasp.
“Hello, friend. I’m Marcus Aurelius. I felt your unhappiness all the way over there,” he points to the vending machine. “I felt compelled to come over here hoping I may ease your distress.”
I look at Cindy and then up, at Marcus Aurelius. His skin in bronze. He has toned arms, a white beard. and white puffy white hair. He looked like Santa Claus after six weeks of Crossfit training in San Diego.
“What troubles you son?”
“Buying a car stinks.”
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”
“Well, my thoughts are so unhappy right now. I mean, why is this taking so long?
“The whole of present time is a pin-prick in eternity.”
I shift my weight, “This seat is a pin-prick.”
Marcus tilts his head like Miss Maggie May tilts her head when I call her name, “I don’t understand.”
“I want to go home.”
“Home,” he clears his throat and points up to the showroom ceiling, “is where the heart is.”
“Wait. What? You made that up?”
“No…” he shakes his head, ashamed, “… no, I saw it printed on a floor mat at TJ MAXX. But it is very similar to something I once said: The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”
I shift in the chair, ” My butt’s asleep. Where’s the salesman? Did they just turn up the heat?”
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
“Yeah, but we’ve been here for almost five hours. I’m starving.”
“How good it is, when you have roast meat or foods like the dead body of a fish, or a bird, or a pig.”
“Are you talking about hot dogs? I think you’re talking about hotdogs. I would kill for a hotdog.”
The salesman returns, sits at his desk, and smiles, “I talked to my manager and we have a deal.”
Cindy and I look at each other and smile. The car salesperson shakes my hand and then Cindy’s.
“This car is going to make your family very happy.”
Marcus clears his throat, “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.”
“The remote starter is going to make me very happy,” Cindy says.
“You’re going to love this car for years to come,” the salesman replies.
“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”
As Cindy and I signed paperwork, Marcus kneels beside me. “You seemed relieved my friend.”
“I’m just glad it’s over.”
“Remember, the future is meaningless and unimportant to the person who can bravely face and make the most of the present. The present moment is all you need.”
“You’re right. Everything in life is uncertain. The car accident. My health. Our lives are controlled by the fear we have for the future or the guilt we harbor about the past. When the truth is–the present is all we have. The present is the only certainty we have.”
“Thanks Marcus Aurelius.”
“I’m glad I could be of service.”
“Hey, do you want a ride home or to Starbucks or to wherever 1st century emperors hang out?”
“No, thank you. I’m going to stay. I would like to talk to the manager about the sparseness of the vending machine.”
I want to welcome everyone who recently subscribed through the Book Funnel promotion and received a free eBook version of Bedtime Stories for the Living. I hope my silly, dad brain brings you insight, comfort, and humor each Friday.
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Here’s what I’m currently reading: Flashback Girl by Lise DeGuire
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Jay Armstrong is a writer, speaker, and a former award-winning high school English teacher. Despite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. He hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:
4. Hearing his three children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents or a drink with his friends)
Jay hasn’t had a bad day in quite a long time.
You can also visit Jay at jayarmstrongwrites.com