Today I was the unwanted victim of someone's anger and frustration. Just a few hours ago, actually. She was a woman under the influence of....
You may be knowingly nodding your head right now because we are all familiar with this. What is it about being behind the wheel that often leaves us so prone to unnecessary impatience and anger?
Back to the story.
I should set the scene.
I'm leaving the office in my car with a letter to drop off in one of the curbside mailboxes near us. I'm at a red light waiting for a green because I have to cross three lanes of traffic to get over to the mailbox, and because the oncoming turn lane has a green light.
The lovely woman behind me, though, finds my hesitancy entirely unnecessary. She feels I should be making a right on the red light because the lane closest to me is clear (as far as she can see from behind me).
I see her behind me through my rear view mirror. She is waving her hands in the air in exasperation, and shaking her head in exaggerated disbelief at my nonsensical choice to wait out the red light.
I catch her eyes with mine. I smile slightly and tilt my head a little in acknowledgement of her gestures.
This is the turning point. Instead of being mildly embarrassed that her impatience was witnessed by the recipient, she pulls forward until she is almost touching my car with hers and commences flailing about her hands and mouthing what I am certain are only the kindest words to me.
When the light finally turns green, I can only wonder if my obvious pulling up to the mailboxes leaves her with any understanding for the unforgivable delay I caused her journey. (Which, if you know Grants Pass, she only made it up to the next red light on 6th street, so there's wasn't much delay.)
I genuinely hope this woman was under some temporary stress - a deadline, an incredible need to pee, or perhaps an car that tends to shut down when idling.
But I suspect that is not the case.
And I understand this well because I have been this woman.
Perhaps I have never been so aggressive or flamboyant as what I experienced today, but I have certainly been an aggressive and impatient driver - also talking to the other drivers around me, and maybe not saying the nicest ever things.
But that has changed. I have changed. I don't catch myself wasting so much care on what is happening with the drivers around me that aren't going as fast as I'd like to go, or who turn in to the wrong lane, or make any number of mistakes. (We're all fallible, people!)
I'd like to say that what changed was some great spiritual awakening. I am such an enlightened being that traffic stress no longer applies!
Alas, I'm still very much a normal mortal, and can get frustrated well enough. (But admittedly have learned also how to let frustrations go.)
What changed was living in Asia.
Riding in Asia. Driving in Asia.
Well, similarly in Mexico, and the Caribbean....and Italy. But especially Asia.
Driving there can be ABSOLUTE CHAOS!
I'm talking driving up the wrong side of the street at any time because it's the faster way to get where you need to be.
Motorbikes whizzing incredibly close to you with babies hanging off the side like bumpers.
Hairpin corners on muddy 1.5 lane "highways" with sheer drop-offs to give you vertigo.
Huge five-lane highways with lane lines that are apparently more mild suggestion than rule.
Elephants in the street! Seriously.
More than the conditions, it's how the people respond to these conditions that have left me so Driving Zen.
It's just "how it is."
That enormous bus almost ran me over by turning right in front of me!
Oh well, that's just how it is.
Someone just came racing up the wrong side of the street right in front of me!!
Oh, well, that's just how it is.
Do I seriously need to pull over with my groceries precariously balanced on my motorbike like this just because the royal family is driving by?
Yeah, that's just how it is.
Did you see that?! They just veered right into my lane!!
Yeah, that's how it is.
Life is always happening and the only way you can change that is to die. So why waste the precious time you have to be alive in this world stressing out about what is happening around you that you have absolutely no control over?
This is really a remarkable difference (although generalized, of course) in what I have experienced living in Asia and living in the states. In many life situations (but especially behind the wheel) we Americans have a tendency to feel entitled to a sense of control over all happenings - that what happens around us is actually happening to us. And if we don't like it (which we most often don't), then it must change. And if it doesn't change, that's not right and we're pissed off!
Now we all know that can't be good for our health. Stress takes off years if it doesn't just take it all eventually.
So let's all take a lesson from Asia. Particularly the next time you're behind the wheel. Stop trying to control your surroundings. If you feel yourself getting impatient or frustrated, stop.
Take a deep breath.
Say, "Oh well, that's just how it is."
And let it go.