Whenever I ride in the car with my mother, I am always reminded of her resilience and courage. I still clearly recall how, as a seven-year-old kid, I would  tag along with her as she drove across different towns and cities to do her daily errands and work.

That’s how I came to observe the way she would grip the gearshift and the steering wheel with ease and confidence, like a ballerina who swayed her arms and hands and feet in careful, deliberate moves while the honks and horns played music down the road. It didn’t dawn on me then that her driving is an act of selfless love, transcending life and death — pure motherly love.

Nineteen years ago, on the morning of Dec. 30, she drove herself to the emergency room because she was about to go into labor. I cannot even begin to grasp the level of alertness and control one must possess to get her hands on the steering wheel and continue to prod on the gas pedal with calmness while she is in deep, serious pain and about to deliver a life into this world.

Maybe that’s why I love riding cars, especially when it’s my mother who’s driving. In a matter of minutes, I’d fall asleep, safe in the serene drift of the car en route to my school in España or a shopping mall in Quezon City or back to our house in Bulacan. That has always been the case.

About 10 months into the pandemic, a day that seemingly unfolded like any other day in lockdown, my father suffered a heart attack, which caused his sudden demise. It stopped the daily ordinariness of our lives. His life ended without any sign or warning, no yellow light that warned us he was about to stop breathing.

On the eve of the day he died, my mom told me my father had been experiencing chest pains and asked me to immediately open the garage door. I handed her the car keys, because we could not wait for the ambulance to arrive at our place. My brother and I, with flailing arms, carried our father to the car while he fought to catch his breath. My mother, of course, was the driver.

Everything happened at high speed like a Formula 1 championship, except that my father decided he couldn’t finish the race. I can still recall, however, how my mother’s face never showed any sign of defeat, discouragement, or fear. In the face of death, she managed to be at the helm of everything — something I’m afraid I would never be able to do. 

At that moment when we were rushing my father to the hospital, I remembered the story of my birth and how my mother drove herself to the hospital while in constant pain and contractions. Now it was my father, her husband, that she had to bring to the hospital to save his life. My mother drives to save lives, and she drives not for herself but for others, for us. By driving and moving us from place to place — those little trips to the mall or early pick-ups from school — she manifests all her selflessness and dedication and love.

I then understood why my mom, as the woman behind the wheel, would latch onto the gear and step on the pedals with such resolve. For her, life continues no matter what. “Basta diretso lang lagi,” she’d always tell my brother when teaching him to navigate the road. To forge on no matter what and to step on that gas no matter how painful or slow — that’s how it is for her. Onward is the only way.

At times, many people see women drivers in a sexist context, as terrible drivers who have a hard time doing parallel parking or incapable of shifting gears properly. Every time, they are proven wrong because of women like my mother, a living testament to the expression of love through service and driving.

A day after my father passed, I woke her up gasping for breath; my asthma had been triggered by my anxiety. My Salbutamol inhaler had already run out. Without a hitch, she got her keys and went out to buy me a refill at the local pharmacy. When she got back, she was crying; it was the only moment I saw her wail, as she was about to park the car in the garage. It was because we had lost Dad, she said, and we could no longer be with him on trips to the market or the office or the mall from now on.

Whenever I ride in the car with my mother, I am always reminded of the countless ways she has conquered life’s storms with grit and courage, how she surpasses its roadblocks and diversions. For now, I’ll have to learn from her how to drive similarly through life.

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