A License to Live

Comments 21
“Les, that license in your wallet, that’s not an ordinary piece of paper.”

Within the first week of getting my driver’s license in 1995, I let a woman with two children in her backseat who had just crashed into my rear driver’s-side quarter panel drive off without calling the police or making an insurance claim, and I ran the front-right corner of my car into the back-left corner of a high school classmate’s car while backing out of my parking space at school.

No one had ever told me what to do in a car accident. It was probably only my third or fourth time driving alone. I was just worried about the kids. They were fine. I figured I’d drive home and my parents would make an insurance claim.

Doesn’t work that way, it turned out.


My classmate Jill was in her car next to me when I backed my car out and spun the wheel too fast without clearing the front while leaving school my sophomore year.

I scratched her paint pretty significantly. She was really cool about it. I was really embarrassed.

“Les, that license in your wallet, that’s not an ordinary piece of paper. That is a driver’s license. And it’s not only a driver’s license. It’s an automobile license. And it’s not only an automobile license. It’s a license to live, a license to be free, a license to go wherever, whenever and with whomever you choose.” — Dean, License to Drive

Freedom. That’s what turning 16 and getting my driver’s license represented. Next to moving out of my parents’ house and into my college dorm room, nothing in life has ever rivaled the taste of freedom one feels behind the wheel.

I made the mistake with the mom who crashed into me because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I made the steering mistake while backing the car out of the parking space at school because that was literally the first time I’d ever backed out of a parking spot with cars on either side of me.

I hope it goes without saying that neither situation has come even close to happening again. I’m generally pretty good at not making the same mistake twice.

20 Years Later

At 4:37 a.m. Central Time tomorrow, I turn 36.

There are so many parallels between that time in my life and where I now find myself. Rapid change is occurring. I find myself in uncharted life territory with so many new experiences to have and life lessons to learn.


Not freedom I wanted or asked for. But freedom, all the same.

What are you going to do with it, middle-aged guy?

That’s the question we all have to answer about the precious time we have. I mean, maybe I’ll live to be 80. I hope so. But I might not. A heart beat seems like a fickle thing. Many people younger than me have had them stop without warning.

What are you going to do with the time?

One of my favorite writers Austin Kleon always reads a few New York Times obituaries every morning. About the lives of people who don’t have a today or tomorrow to plan for.

He doesn’t do it to be morbid. He does it to every.single.day remember to live. We all have an hourglass constantly getting emptier with no knowledge of how much sand remains in the upper half.

Today better count.

Learn more. Do more. Be more.

Not later. Now.

The divorce changed everything. It’s because divorce changes everything. A little good. A lot bad.

All the sand in the bottom of the hourglass is just going to sit there now. Days that already happened. Will never matter again. Can’t matter anymore because the sand never flows upward, even if we shake it up a lot.

After divorce or some other traumatic life event, you’re just trying to tread water. Just trying to stay alive.

But it’s nearly two years later now. Life can no longer be about treading water. Now, it’s got to be about choosing a direction and going that way. About lifting the sail and steering as best I can.

I’m a little like that 16-year-old again. Capable, but unsure. Bound for mistakes and missteps. But climbing toward good things. Always climbing.

Because this birthday isn’t an ordinary birthday.

It’s my 36th birthday.

And it’s not just my 36th birthday.

It’s the 20-year anniversary of freedom.

And it’s not just the 20-year anniversary of freedom.

It’s a license to live. A license to be free.

A license to go wherever, whenever and with whomever I choose.

Let’s go.

21 thoughts on “A License to Live”

  1. Happy birthday! Mine was on Sunday. I’m 39, and I intend to freaking enjoy the last year of my 30s. So far so good.

    I have always been a cautious person. We are not allowed a drivers licence until 17 here (learners at 16.5). But I was so aware that it was a licence to drive a lethal weapon that I wouldn’t take my test until I was sure I could drive safely. It was after my grade 12 exams, 8 months later. Did I mention I’m cautious?

    I declined to marry my childhood sweetheart when he asked me, finally, because I thought we had too much baggage. Then I ended up deciding to stay with my husband when he cheated 10yrs in. Childhood sweetheart probably would find that odd. But I’m cautious. I don’t blow things up unless I have to. I avoid risks I am not forced to take.

    And it gave me a safe place in which to live, or at least a safer place. I used to feel I was lucky to have him. Now I know he is lucky to have me! And so does he. The power balance is tipped on its head. And that is my licence to live. I don’t need to prove myself to others. Others have to prove themselves to me. I get to be the test instructor 🙂

    1. I’m getting there. Right there, with you. And I like it.

      It’s liberating when you don’t need permission from anyone except yourself.

      It’s been a long, but worthwhile, process.

      Thank you for the birthday wishes. I wish you the the same.

  2. 3, 2, 1… Happy Birthday! I hope this year is one that you will look back on and say, “Those were some of my life’s best memories.” Starting now. 😀

  3. Oh, the driving mishaps I could share. Really. Sometimes my husband says, “You’re the one I let drive my kids around all day.” And he’s still my husband!
    On a much more significant note- HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Not sure how I missed these posts (kids being sick or on vacation for about 2 months will do it) but I’m so glad to be back binge-reading your gorgeous writing.
    Although I’d like to make one correction- 36 is NOT middle age. We gotta aim higher. So Happy Slightly Over One-Third of Your Life Birthday. You go!

    1. I don’t know how gorgeous it is, but I’m well beyond flattered that you think so.

      Thank you very much for the birthday wishes. Believe me when I tell you I’m not trying to make anyone feel old.

      Especially not you.

      Thank you for reading and leaving this nice note. 🙂

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Matt Fray

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