November 2013

Thoughts from the Pick and Pull salvage yard

The spring of this year brought a new experience. The sun visor on my old car had rotted on the sunny side and needed to be replaced. My mechanic suggested that I go to the "Pick and Pull" salvage yard to see if there might be a used sun visor in better shape that could be found and obtained. I had never heard of the "Pick and Pull" and had never visited a salvage yard. On a sunny Saturday, I took my place in line to pay my fee and get a computer printout of the location of cars of similar make and model where I might find a suitable sun visor replacement. I needed the printout as the salvage yard was huge, rows and rows of wrecked vehicles in various states of being picked over. I had taken a picture of my present sun visors with my smartphone to help me identify what I needed, and with printout and screwdriver in hand, I set off down the rows of an above-ground automobile graveyard.

Looking are the mangled car bodies, I wondered about the drivers and former owners. What had happened to them? I expected that some had walked away from their accidents, some had been seriously injured and some had bodies which had ended up in human graveyards. In some ways it was an overwhelming place. It was not only large and contained hundreds of damaged vehicles, it also represented the lives of even more people as it wasn't just the individual drivers who were impacted by these accidents. Each had families and friends and insurance adjusters.

But in another way, it was a hopeful, if somewhat sobering, place. Here people came to salvage—to pick among the wreckage of cars (and lives) and save (or pull) what was valuable for current living. Isn't this what we do in grief? We experience some tragic and devastating loss which wrecks the lives that we were living and sometimes our initial assessment is that it is a total loss. How can we go on? How can we continue to live after such an event? Yet on some level we survived, so the challenge to live remains. Perhaps we were able to walk away and look back at the twisted remains and wonder how we survived. Or we may have limped away or been carried away and gone on to places of care and rehabilitation. But if it's at all possible, we first take some things with us: Belongings that were in the passenger seat, items from the glove compartment (did we ever use this for gloves?), the music we played in the stereo and any valuables from the trunk. From in the beginning of our loss our instincts are to salvage what we can, even in "total" losses. At both the body shop for the car and for our own bodies and lives, the questions are often the same: Is repair possible? What are the costs? How do we literally and figuratively move from here? What can be saved or salvaged?

We are a stubborn lot, we people of the pick and pull. Even when our losses are "total" and the shattered remains are carted off to the final disposition, it's not really final. We go back again and again looking for what is valuable, for what we don't have to leave behind, for what we can take with us from our past lives even though much will be left behind. The salvage yard is a place of realism and hope. The wrecks and reminders of our pain are all around us, but we have screwdrivers and wrenches and we will look up and down the rows and can leave with more than we brought with us. Sometimes it is just what we hoped to find and other times it may be different but just what we needed. Of course, other times we leave frustrated and disappointed as what we seek cannot be found. It's worth the effort to search, however, although there may come a time where we realize that what desire can never be found and we'll have to find other ways to live and to move.

I was fortunate in my automotive searching. For a few dollars and a little time, I left with unrotted sun visors (self-installed) and a feeling of small accomplishment. But that's not the end of the story. A few months later, my old car was hit by an Avalanche (I'm not making this up). My car had actually been "totaled" two past times, but each time it was able to be repaired, receive a new paint job and driven again. This time was different and the car, with its recently installed new/used sun visors, was truly totaled, never to be driven again. I was again fortunate, able to walk away from the wreckage and return later to gather my few valuables. I expect that my old car is somewhere on some salvage yard row waiting for someone who needs a set of unrotted sun visors and maybe a few other parts to be picked and pulled. And I've got some more things to think about.

Greg Adams
Director
Center for Good Mourning

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