By Gabriel Nathan
Sometimes, Disney gets dark and emotional. There is a scene in the 1968 film, “The Love Bug” where Jim Douglas, played by Dean Jones, ditches Herbie the Love Bug and buys a brand-new Lamborghini. Heartbroken, Herbie smashes his front end against the Lamborghini repeatedly and then takes off through the streets of Los Angeles. Jim realizes how selfish he has been, and he finally understands that Herbie isn’t just another pair of headlights; he has emotions and feelings.
Jim chases after Herbie and finds him trying to drive off the Golden Gate Bridge. Jim grips onto Herbie’s rear bumper, trying to pull him back. Jim tries reasoning with Herbie, saying: “Come on, baby, it’s going to be a beautiful day tomorrow.”
I think there are many of us out there struggling with depression who, for much of our lives, do not believe these words. We believe we are stuck in a world of perpetual midnight and hopelessness, with nobody out there willing to help us pull ourselves back from the brink. We cannot fathom the possibility that it will be a beautiful day tomorrow. But sometimes, we need help to believe. Sometimes we need a little magic in our lives.
That was what I found I needed in the fall of 2017. During that time, I found myself shutting down, stagnating in therapy, having difficulty focusing at work, becoming short with my children. And then, it somehow got worse: I remember sitting on the couch, alone, stoic and stunned, at 3:15am when the final presidential election results were announced. Suddenly, I didn’t know my country anymore, and my feelings of alienation and isolation only increased.
I have struggled with depression for probably three decades. I have been on and off many medications, and I have been in therapy almost continuously since college. My depression has known peaks and valleys, but this time in my life was a valley. I needed to seize onto something I understood—something that symbolized warmth, friendship, joy and love. I needed to believe that it would be a beautiful day tomorrow.
So, I convinced my wife that it was time to buy a white, 1963 Volkswagen Beetle and turn him into Herbie the Love Bug. I was surprised to hear her say, “I think you’re right.”
Sometimes you do something only for yourself, and that’s okay. That’s wonderful, actually. We call it “self-care,” right? Sometimes, though, the things you do for yourself also benefit others, like showering. And Herbie.
We’ve had some rust on the doors patched up, he’s not exactly the right “Herbie color,” he doesn’t have a sunroof like the original Herbie—but the people whose faces break out into the most glorious smiles when they see him on the street don’t care about any of that. They’re instantly transported back to their childhoods, sitting in front of their television sets, watching “The Love Bug” on their living room floor like I did when I was five years old—mesmerized by this little car who drives for himself and whose heart beats like mine and yours. This homely little Bug who loves unconditionally and just asks for the same in return.
Herbie hasn’t cured my depression, but he helps. He’s helped me go from someone who walks around with his head down, hoping to not make eye-contact with anyone, to someone who actively seeks out social contact. When I get inside that car and shut the door, I pat his steering wheel and say, “Okay, boy: let’s go to work.”
Herbie’s job is making people smile, accumulating thumbs-ups, telling people to look up from their cellphones as they hear that impossibly loud motor roaring along. With Herbie, I love people. I love their smiles and their questions. He’s good for me, for others and for my depression.
In 2018, there’s a lot of talk about how people are glued to their phones, avoiding in-person social contact in favor of online relationships and virtual friendships. People don’t know how to talk on first dates or job interviews; they aren’t comfortable looking another person in the eye. But it’s been my experience that a 55-year-old car, a bunch of German steel and chrome on wheels can do rather a lot to prompt some pretty special, warm, human interactions.
It is going to be a beautiful day tomorrow. Believe it.
Gabriel Nathan is the Editor in Chief of OC87 Recovery Diaries, a non-profit, online publication devoted to stories of mental health, empowerment, and change. Gabe, his wife, twins, basset hound, and Herbie live in a suburb of Philadelphia, and Gabe and Herbie can frequently be spotted together, puttering around all over the place on various errands and missions. If you don’t live nearby, you can follow Gabe and Herbie on Facebook and Instagram. Gabe may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will pass along any fan mail to Herbie, who does not yet have his own email address.
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