Wk12, Day5: Human Beings
One of the first days after moving to the Midwest in my late 30s, I was at a stoplight in traffic waiting for red to go green. As I waited, I looked around, reviewing my knowledge of the area. I mentally rehearsed the path to school to the left and the path to the town’s one sangha to the right. It seemed enough time had passed, so I returned my attention to the light.
My car was second in line. The light was already green, but the car in front wasn’t moving. More astonishing to this northeasterner, no one was beeping! We all just sat there, waiting patiently for him to go. Or not. I’d lived in Texas for twenty years, but even polite southerners did not demonstrate this level of charm. So this is the Midwest, I thought.
Last night, driving home from Wild Women Writer’s group, I decided to try letting traffic do what it would. I’d choose a lane and stick with it all the way home. This experiment lasted about four blocks up Connecticut Ave.
Bobbing and weaving and repeatedly choosing the left lane just at the car ahead put on its blinker and jockeying back to the right just as the next car decided to parallel park. Exasperated and only halfway to the beltway, I returned to my original experiment and chose the left lane as my fate. I challenged myself further to note my internal response to not lane-shifting: how I tensed with the thought that someone was getting ‘there’ faster, how I tightened at the idea of each ‘missed opportunity.’ Who was I trying to beat anyway, where was I going that I needed to get there fast, and what was so important when I arrived? No one, nowhere, nothing.
Five minutes later as I neared the traffic circle, the lane I’d chosen was the clear loser. My hard-earned zen dissipated quickly. I hit the blinker and started to nose in to the right. Then I caught myself, took a deep breath, and reclaimed my commitment. This lane was slow, yes, but I had no where to be, nothing to do, no one to see. All was probably well.
And besides, I was only two cars from the circle’s entrance.
I did not think it possible for my lane to go slower until the man in front of me suddenly braked to a full stop and hopped out of his car. What is happening? The car in front of him had done the same, as had the car in the next lane to the right. Can they do that? Who does that? What is happening?
It was then that I saw, to my left on the median, the three drivers together lifting a man who had fallen to the ground after crossing the street. They got him upright and restored his cane beneath him. Assured he was okay, they returned to their cars and merged into the circle.
Washington DC. During rush hour. And there wasn’t one beep.