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  • Drs. Douglas W. Ota

The View from the Rear


I close my eyes and think back to the first time I gave her the wheel. It seemed then I had just changed her diaper in the middle of the night, but now, in the middle of this night, she was driving our vacationing family to France. Time folds back upon itself, like origami, and then meshes impossibly into now.


Breathe, and let go.

I stare in disbelief at the inside of my eyelids.


Every parent knows such moments. Row by row, life shifts us to the back of its theater. Or our kids shift to the front. It's hard to tell. But it can't be helped. And this is how it should be. The sight of a parent refusing to relinquish his or her seat isn't pretty.


The lane markings zipped by like beams of light. Wasn't she speeding? I surreptitiously glanced at the speedometer, saw she was driving 120kph, and reminded myself I was allowed one comment per hour. Don't be a backseat driver, I commanded myself. Show her you trust her. I did. But this was the first time she had ever driven us. For eighteen years I'd watched the road and kept her safe. My life—all our lives—now lay in her hands.


Breathe, and let go. I instructed my right hand to ease its grip on the door.


Those were the good old days, I realize. That was a Volvo, with airbags, ABS, and seven other acronyms radiating safety. Those were European highways, without a pothole in ten thousand kilometers. And the only thing on those highways were cars.


But that was then. I open my eyes and return to Vietnam.


We are hurtling towards an intersection at 60kph. The Vietnamese take the word literally: traffic intersecting from any direction. The road from the left sprays scooters into the crossing at every imaginable angle, like fireworks. A smaller road from the right does the same, without a spark colliding. Multiple drivers block the side of the road, forcing traffic to arc around them. Three scooters drive at us, honking and going the wrong way—until I realize "wrong" is a Western word. I am simply a passenger in a mess of metal, in a video game played with real lives, where protection comes only from your wits and your horn.


Traveling through Asia, my daughter bought a motorcycle in Hanoi, and traversed Vietnam in its entirety. I met her during a trip for work, and sat on the back for a day trip into the mountains. Every time she turned and yelled "Dad!" I knew I was squeezing with nervous knees.


Breathe, and hold on.


You get used to it. The shift to the back, I mean. I confess to being terrified at first, to running the calculations on risk factors and responsibilities and concluding the whole endeavor was statistically insane. Long-term life on a scooter in Vietnam can't possibly end well. But this was her month in Vietnam. And I knew that as kids move forward in life's theater, they must step onto its stage and into its action. This is how it should be. All we can do is pray. If it were otherwise, we'd still be in Africa. The command to explore is written into their DNA.


And therefore into ours.


I explore the back seat. On this motorcycle, it's minimal, but as the day progresses, I find I can ease my legs, release my arms, and relax. I breathe, and look around. Lush Vietnamese mountains soar to the right, an undulating fecund infinity. To the left, fifty boats from a tiny fishing hamlet rest on the river, enjoying the day off. I notice how my daughter follows a line she seems to be tracing two hundred meters ahead, gently bending around scooters, arcing around rocks and holes, and honking to reinforce the acoustic force field protecting us from nearby metal. She knows what she's doing. With her dark skin and borrowed helmet, she even looks local.


Breathe, and let go. Enjoy the view from the rear.


"I'm proud of you," I yell in her ear.

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