Monday, May 26, 2014

Traffic Circles

Sometimes I feel like life is a giant traffic circle.

I think you can almost figure out how one handles life by how they approach a traffic circle. Or at least how they handle life at this particular phase of their life anyway.

One day about a month ago I was at a traffic circle on Fuller Road in Albany. The people in front of me, about 4 cars ahead, were stopped because there were cars whipping around, no one was doing a long enough pause at their red yield station to allow another car at another station a chance to pull in...the take-turn method was clearly not working with this particular group of vehicle users, our part of the circle was stuck waiting for a chance to break in. So the man behind me began to beep his horn, angrily. I put my hands up so the car in front of me knew it was not me beeping and I decided to try to ignore the man, so I could give attention to what was going on in front of me.

When it came my turn, again people were speeding around, faster than traffic circle speed limits. This time I could see a young driver approaching and he was obviously struggling with his speed and which lane and so on, so I waited. I am a teacher after all, I can wait for a young person to figure out something painfully obvious to me. I began to prepare for my turn to pull out when the male driver behind me (the one who was beeping seconds before) just about lost his mind and suddenly appeared on my left, almost grazed my car in his effort to get around me, nearly hit the young driver and gunned it so he could make a right turn around me...I was going straight into the circle.

My daughter Alex was in the car with me. Had this man hit my car and injured her I am pretty sure I would be in jail right now because the anger that welled up was so intense and primal.

He did not hit me, nor did he hit the young driver. He pulled way and off into the sunset. I am pretty sure he thought he taught us all what to do in a traffic circle. You go.

I have since been reading posts about traffic circles on Facebook (funny how that happens, you experience something and you notice people talking about the same subject) and I have been watching how people handle them in various towns where they have sprung up.

It seems to be there are very specific ways people deal with traffic circles.

And I imagine this is how they handle life, especially the people they interact with. I have found that the way I handle traffic circles is how I handle people and I am proud of it. I can sleep at night knowing that the three seconds I could have used to get ahead of that slow driver were not necessary nor worth putting everyone else's lives at risk. I waste more time than that checking Facebook for goodness sake!

There are the people who pretend there is no traffic circle. They don't slow down. They don't look to the sides to see who is coming. Everyone else must watch out for them or rue their choice. I imagine these people are the ones who see inconvenience in most parts of life and are angry that they have to even deal with other humans. I wonder how they would deal with my students who struggle and need more time. I wonder how they would take the extra seconds it takes to re-explain something to my Kath. If they don't have patience for something so minor, like waiting their turn for a traffic circle, what kind of patience do they show to other parts of humanity throughout their day? How many other times during the day do they only think of how things affect them and just push their own agenda through?

There are people who come to a complete stop even if no one except them (and me behind them) are on this strip of road. Maybe they had a bad experience before so they just.stop.and.won't.move.for.a.long.moment. Are these the people for whom life moves way too fast? Are they my struggling students, my grieving friends who just need a second to remember where they are and where they are going? I imagine those times when I realized I drove upstate to Long Island when my mom was dying and I had no idea how I did it and I don't remember much of the actual driving. Are they dealing with something I cannot even imagine?

There are the people who pause, foot on break, coasting and testing the waters, gauging the pace of the other cars, ready to stop when that one person speeds up or doesn't use their indicator. There are people who know that there are all different types of people going through all different issues.

At one point in my life I would have been the first driver and just said, "You don't have a red light, you have a red yield, go. Go! Hurry! We are going to miss our chance. UGH. Why didn't you just go, dammit. Now I'm going to be late...."

Then life happened. And I'd like to think I grew up.

Now I look at the drivers. I look to see if they see me, if they are looking where they are going. If they slow down, unsure, I don't make them more anxious, I give them space. And I don't drive up next to them sneering at them if they do something jerky.

I'll get to where I need to. And I will try to do it without making anyone else more anxious, angry or unsettled. I picture my friends in the other cars. I have patience for them, why not have patience for someone else's friend? I picture my mom or my dad in the other cars. I have patience for them, why not for someone else's mom or dad? I picture my students and I picture my kids. I have patience for them, why not have patience for someone else's kids?

What if how we handled a traffic circle was how we handled everyone in all our interactions; what if we just gave one another a second to breathe, think and go at their pace? Imagine that world? That's where I want to live. And that's where I want this next generation and especially my children to live. Don't you?

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