October, Traffic, and Gentleness

Trees and a pond in golden sunlight.

The mornings are getting darker, but this week, the air has been muggy – I’m waiting for the cool feather-touch of October winds. Every day brings treasures: tall pines casting long shadows against the gold of the setting sun, the rich smell of leaf-mold in the woods, and the reflections of trees glimmering green on blue water. 

Last Friday night, I went to a lecture that gave a spiritual/psychological perspective on anger. The speaker said that anger reveals what you love – your self-image, time, possessions, or people. He used traffic as an example: if getting stuck in traffic angers you, that anger reveals your love for feeling in control.

Traffic has become a daily reality in this new place. In the north, I could shave off a few minutes by driving fast on the highway; here, my commute time could easily double with accidents, holiday weekends, or rain. And yes, I get frustrated. I view my time as my own, and hate it when I lose any. 

I’ve discovered that I treat obstacles like traffic as if they will only happen once. After I finally get home, finish a dentist appointment, put away my groceries, or get my car oil changed, I can finally be free. But standing in a Walmart checkout line the other day, I began to realize that these daily irritants are not going away. 

Under the fluorescent lights, as the cashier and current customer waited for a manager to come do something to the cash register, I tried to remind myself that I don’t have to become angry when I’m forced to wait. It takes so much strength to be gentle; but snapping every small frustration or injustice would embitter me. 

I also remember being a cashier during summer jobs and continually making mistakes that forced customers to wait. Once, a woman with rich brown hair and a gentle smile didn’t complain once when she had to return to Barnes & Noble because I messed up her payment. A man with a round face and a plaid shirt watched me clumsily try to wrap his coffee table book, exclaimed “oh, dear,” and showed me how to wrap it properly.

As for traffic – as a young, anxious driver, I remember other drivers protecting me from my own mistakes, such as letting me into their own turn lanes at intersections at the last minute. Once, a driver in the parking spot across from me watched me struggle to park straight, and then backed out so I could pull through neatly into his space. 

I promised myself then, and again now, I would try to treat people as those strangers treated me.

But I need to be motivated by more than memories of kindness: to be patient and gentle, I need to see clearly. Yesterday morning, I thought about the last creative writing class I took. Our first week was about Vision: trying to see the world not as ordinary or mundane, but as God’s spectacular Creation. Driving on the interstate this week, I tried to remember that every car crawling around me contained at least one immortal.

A true, cosmic perspective of the world is gentle and joyful. I can remember that in heavy Friday night traffic, long lines at the RMV, and in the cool woods as the dying leaves fall.