When the Universe hands you an unexpected time out
Driving back home to Connecticut after a fun-filled Thanksgiving week with family in Georgia was more challenging than I thought it would be. Driving conditions were less than ideal. We were hit with nonstop rain and dense fog. It was 975 miles of “pay attention” driving over the course of two very long days behind the wheel. (Okay, we should have flown!) On day #2, my husband (who did most of the driving) and I elected to take Highway 81 for what we thought would be the more scenic route (as if you could see much through the rain and fog). We saw the road signs for “construction delays ahead” and knew we might be a bit inconvenienced, but no big deal. We had nowhere to be but home and all day to get there.
My own version of Planes, Trains & Automobiles
What we hadn’t anticipated was a two hour delay on Interstate 81 in middle of Pennsylvania. It was a dead stop on the freeway: no moving, no visibility, no communication for two solid hours. All we could see was the back of the truck that was two vehicles in front of us, and the cab of the big rig that was a few vehicles behind us. A four foot concrete guard rail separated us from the oncoming traffic, which wasn’t moving either. Traffic was stopped in both directions for what seemed like an eternity.
Not knowing why the traffic had stopped (was there an accident?) or how long it would be, we waited patiently. We kept the engine running and continued to listen to our audio book (The Dresden Files, Changes, by Jim Butcher. I love that wizard/vampire/save the world from disaster genre). We had plenty of food and water in the car. We were warm and comfortable and we were together.
After about 45 minutes, I thought to myself, “You should have stopped at that last gas station for a bio break.” I then realized that “Maybe getting the Starbucks Venti-sized Latte wasn’t such a good idea.”
A conversation with other drivers commenced on my Smartphone through NavBug.com. One driver said, “This traffic better start moving. I’m pregnant and I have to pee.” Holy crap, I thought, so do I!
We tried to find a radio station that gave traffic updates. No such luck. We searched for web sites and apps that would give us information. Nothing useful. I looked for places that we could report the situation and send in our complaints. Keep it to yourself, no one cares.
Glad it’s not me
Then we saw two ambulances drive by with sirens on. I held my breath. Things were really serious for some people, much more than an inconvenience. Suddenly I was grateful to be exactly where I was – stuck in traffic and not in that ambulance.
The decision to shut off the engine signaled that we were going to be there for a long time. I started imagining spending the night in the car. What if it came to that? Perhaps if it was dark enough, I could go and pee outside the car and no one would take notice of me. Perhaps they’d be doing the same thing? Every bladder has its limits, right?
My emotional state went from anxious to angry, playful to panicked, from calm to crazy…and all in the span of two hours. I simply can’t imagine what it must be like being a refugee waiting for days/weeks/years on end for some one, anyone, to help you out of a desperate situation.
How do you respond to things beyond your control?
It’s at times like these when we get a glimpse into our true character. We can see how our coping strategies work (or not) in stressful situations. We can make the connection between our thoughts, feelings, bodily reactions and behaviors. For the most part, it’s such a head game. We get in our own way.
Reframe the situation
But what if someone had said,
I’m going to give you two hours to sit and think. You don’t need to go anywhere or do anything. I’m giving you this time to reflect, converse, sleep, relax, whatever you want to do. It’s your two hours. No deadlines, no demands, no stress. The only restriction is that you have to slow down and just be for two hours.
How would you feel about that? Would that change your experience of the dead stop?
Take a time out
Sometimes slowing down, and even stopping, can be good for you. We are such a go-go, do-do, now-now society. We are addicted to stress, busyness, technology and activity. Other than sleeping, we don’t know how to go off-line. But sometimes the Universe mandates a time out. It forces us to be still and to experience what doing nothing is all about. It’s important to be mindful of how we choose to experience the time outs, the moments of perceived inconvenience. It could come in the form of a traffic delay, or worse, an illness. But there may be a gift within. Go ahead and unwrap it. It may be exactly what you need.