Reading Time: 6 minutes (Zetong Li.)
Reading Time: 6 minutes

This is a love story, but it is not about another person. That would come later. This is a story about how I discovered a truth that somehow made its way into Christianity. This is how I discovered that why yes, perfect love really does cast out fear.

(Zetong Li.)

A Phobia.

I used to have a total terror of driving. I don’t know how it started. Somehow, I became very afraid of driving in my early 20s. It was probably part of that PTSD thing I dealt with–one cannot control all the other drivers, after all, and they do such unexpected things sometimes.

At some point in my mid-30s I fell in love with a particular kind of sportscar, a Miata. In college, that very first year the car came out in the 80s, we had called these cars “evil Miatas.” We called them that because their ads famously said their designers used Zen Buddhist concepts to create them. But I always loved the look of these sleek little cars.

At a hacker convention that I attended many years later, I ended up driving around the convention’s hometown all night with a really hot guy who owned one. When I got home, I looked for a Miata of my own. I simply adored it!

(Photo credit: CoboFoto). This isn’t my car, but it looks very similar!

I ended up buying a purple Miata not long afterward. It came with a hardtop that I didn’t even realize could be removed at first.

Oh, and I didn’t even know how to drive a stickshift yet. None of that mattered. I knew I could learn what I needed to know.

Wolverine’s Claws in the Gearbox.

My Miata is smaller than a BMW Roadster, incidentally, by whoa nelly lots.

It handles like a racecar on rails. The transmission feels like Wolverine unsheathing his claws–sniksniksnik.

The car all but leaps when you accelerate, devouring the road and laughing at it as we roar past. And its paint shines like a femme fatale’s lipstick.

First, though, before I could devour road in that lipstick-gleaming car, I had to recover from my driving phobia.

One of my gaming buddies drove it home for me. Then, my best friend taught me how to drive it. After a short while, I got my license renewed–it’d lapsed while I was tramping around Canada. Now street-legal, I began to drive a little bit more every single day. Every day was a new adventure tinged with nervousness and played out against a musical backdrop of hits from the 90s and early 2000s. Aqua, the Boss, and Robert Palmer blared on the stereo while I struggled to master the mechanical skills I needed to learn.

My Absolutely WTF First Official Outing.

The first time I took a serious drive in it with my then-boyfriend (TBF), I ditched that car. I drove it straight backwards into the drainage ditches on either side of my driveway!

Though I was shocked by the error, it didn’t worry me. My TBF and I just yanked it out of the ditch again. I resolved to be more careful backing out of the driveway.

But that was not the most dramatic event we faced that day.

On the way back home from that same road trip, I found myself driving right behind a motorcyclist. I remember thinking to myself, “Gosh, it’d suck if this guy had an accident, so I’d better give him extra room in case.”

Less than a second later, that poor motorcyclist took a head-over-teacup spill right in front of me on the highway–we never did find out what made him spill, either. He just went loop-the-loop!

I was so proud of myself for not panicking. I simply pulled over into the median. From there, I used my brand-new cell phone to call 911 while my TBF ran to help the guy. Thankfully, he was okay. He was wearing the full range of protective gear even on a warm early-spring day in Georgia, and it saved his life.

And My Cross-Country Trip.

Before I’d even learned how to reliably put that gorgeous sexy beast into first gear without accidentally killing the engine, I set off on a cross-country drive from the East Coast by myself in that car.

Well, it was me and my geriatric cat. She was a hell of a traveler and required fluids, so I didn’t feel comfortable leaving her with anybody. She spent most of her time curled up in the car’s rear window enjoying the sun.

I was looking for the next place I was going to live, and I was not entirely sure where that was going to be. Our road trip lasted almost a solid week. While going through St. Louis, I finally learned how to get the car into first every time. Stop-and-go bumper-to-bumper road construction through a big city might not the best way to learn that lesson, maybe, but I found that it was definitely one of the most educational.

Somewhere around Nebraska I got lost on what I am still sure is the only highway in the entire state, and got myself found again, and realized that both the cat and I were doing just fine.

Losing Fear.

I’ve never feared driving again since then. I fell in love with this car and how I felt while driving it.

My fear had been cast out.

I don’t say “burned out” like my onetime fear of Hell and being “left behind” in the Rapture. No, this fear of driving had not been burned at all. It had simply been tossed in the trash where it belonged.

My new car was playful, nimble, quick, sly, strong, powerful, stable, and utterly trustworthy. She could get me in and out of any scrape imaginable, and that’s exactly what she did. There was no way I could be afraid while driving this sexy beast.

Now, mind you, I never took stupid risks, never. I’ve only gotten one speeding ticket in my life, and it was a year after my road trip; I crossed a state line and didn’t realize that the speed limit had changed. I’m not a stunt driver and I’m not interested in recreating “Knight Rider” tricks. I don’t even try to shoot gaps in traffic.

But this car could probably do all of that and more if I asked.

No, I just want a fun car to drive that holds more stuff than a Tardis (true: it’s shocking how much stuff I can cram into this thing; I’ve taken it on a three-day camping trip to the woods with a tall friend). It does well on mileage and is freaking gorgeous.

I still own that car and still love it. I miss those long road trips; arthritis has slowed me down.

But not fear. Never again, fear.

Fear is Incompatible With Love.

I’ve never been afraid of driving again since then.

That old shrieking, gibbering terror could not coexist with the new love I had discovered for driving what I once called an Evil Miata, nor with the growth that had occurred in me that had made me into a traveler and made me love myself again. My longtime terror had dissolved like a vampire in daylight. It would never trouble me again.

This whole thing with the car was one of the last pieces of the puzzle for me.

Years out of Christianity, I had finally understood, you see: perfect love really does cast out fear.

Indeed, I genuinely believe that fear cannot exist in the presence of love, and love cannot exist in the presence of fear. You cannot love that which terrorizes you. I just hadn’t realized what “perfect love” was, all that time in religion. I thought I’d understood, but I hadn’t really.

When we talk about love, we don’t necessarily mean love for another person or even love for a mythical being. There are lots of kinds of love in this world. And I discovered one of them that hazy night at the hacker convention.

It seems fitting to write about this story today, since the Miata is actually 25 years old this week.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and may your own perfect love, whatever it is, cast out fear today.

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(This post was tidied up by Cas on February 14, 2019. Mostly I just clarified the writing and added subheadings. Alas, I no longer own this car; she finally gave up the ghost last year. I’m still in mourning over the loss of her. She was a good, dependable, fun car to the very end. 10/10 would recommend buying one to anybody.)

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...