Traffic is one of those life realities I’ve never really accepted. I prefer to keep moving in a timely manner. I’d rather go the long way and be advancing toward my destination than be on the most direct route but at a dead stop. I typically find myself with time for 1.5 red lights between here and there (although, I am aware of this and have been working on cramming less into my day).
Moving at a stop-and-go or snail’s pace, I am reminded of the multitude of things over which I have no control. No matter how frustrated we get, how angry, irritated or inconvenienced, that traffic is our current situation; the hand we have been dealt at that moment. As with any card came, the outcome is in part due to those specific cards, in another part due to the cards played by others, but also in how we play that hand – the decisions we make and how we handle each changing condition.
What do we get when we’re stuck in traffic, besides the inconvenience and the range of possible reactions? We get time. So many people are always wishing for more time, and I’m just as guilty. If only I had more time to myself, time to think, time to write, to create, to relax, to call a friend or family member. The key is to take advantage of the opportunity.
It seems strange in our agenda-driven society, full of appointments, to-do lists, errands, and demands, to find a positive opportunity within one of the most frustrating human experiences. It may help to imagine the cause of the traffic. Is there an accident? Is someone hurt? If so, I wish them well and am grateful that I still have my health. Deep breath. Is there construction causing fewer lanes in which people can drive? If so, traffic will move, just slower than I’d like. I will get there. Deep breath. Is this delay causing me to be late to work or picking up my kids? Like most people, I have a cell phone. I can let someone know what happened and that I’m on my way or make other arrangements.
When traffic is stopped such that I can put the car in Park, I remember one summer growing up, driving with my family from Boston to Cape Cod. During the summer months, this drive was always terrible unless you left early. During one summer in the ‘80s my family’s car was at a stand-still waiting to cross the Sagamore Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal and onto the Cape for our vacation, like just about everyone else there. Cars were parked but people got out of their cars, talked to people in neighboring cars, opened coolers, shared snacks, tossed footballs and Frisbees around and generally made the best of it. The ‘80s were a different time, and I haven’t seen anything like that since, but I like the sentiment… “make the best of it.”
How do we make the best of it today? Acknowledge the gift of time. There’s nothing we can do to make the traffic move faster, so by taking a deep breath we can surrender that expectation of ourselves to always be moving and producing, and instead embrace the solitude of an empty car, or the opportunity to talk more deeply with a friend, spouse or our kids who are in the car with us. It’s an opportunity to slow down and connect.
If we are alone, perhaps this time allows us to think through a pressing problem with a different perspective, listen to relaxing music, create the beginnings of something new we've been thinking about for a while now, or call that someone we haven’t had time for. Any of these choices are better than stewing and causing more stress for ourselves over something we can’t do anything about.
The best outcome of traffic is that we have no choice but to slow down. In that moment, this is the hand we have been dealt. By playing this hand to win, we look at the positive consequences and use the time wisely, even if that time is spent just breathing or playing today’s version of Frisbee by taking advantage of the time however we can. Traffic will eventually move again and we will arrive at our destination. We all need a reminder to slow down sometimes. So, cash in on it. Embrace the traffic. Spread the joy.