March 5, 2021
Having taken the Covid “shelter in place” directive literally, I finally broke free from my year-long experiment in isolation. As an “elder,” and one who was “at higher risk,” I had limited my ventures from my home and exposures to others. Food delivery, cleaning my own home, making do with imperfectly functioning appliances, missing loved ones and travel, and exercising minimally, as opposed to the 5-mile walks of my previous, non-Covid life, all conspired to shrink my world and my confidence, while raising my anxiety.
I’m now immunized, and while that is no guarantee of not getting sick, I’m confident I won’t die or be hospitalized as a result of the illness. I remain committed to wearing a mask (or often TWO as recommended) both to protect others and myself.
Yesterday, my 95-year-old father-in-law had a test at the hospital, sending me out to Cedars-Sinai Hospital to pick him up. How would I manage the logistics of driving across the streets of Los Angeles and navigating through Cedars-Sinai parking garage, two daunting tasks in my former life? The journey across town stood in front of me as a known anxiety producer as well as another possible barrier to both my protection and my peace: bumper-to-bumper traffic and impatient drivers, ready to honk at will.
Falling into an unexpectedly calm groove I found my way easily to the east part of town, when something remarkable happened. As I drove down Beverly Blvd (with two right lanes for turning) the person in front of me decided to turn right from the left lane and to proceed through the intersection, but there he froze. And there we sat, until his car created its own path, merging with those who were attempting to turn right from the clearly labeled right turn lanes.
After some 40-odd years of commuting to work through LA traffic, I had developed quite an internal conversation about the driving decisions of others, actions that, of course, were invisible to the driver in question unless I decided to bring an auditory or visual expansion of the situation by honking or shaking a finger.
Surprisingly, I watched the man with curiosity, as I sat poised in infinite time, with nowhere to go. He stopped fully, right in the middle of the intersection. I stopped as well, to avoid a collision, thus complicating the situation by impeding several more cars behind me.
As I sat, I realized something was missing from this drama: the litany of angry thoughts that once claimed space in my mind while driving. I simply watched and waited for the man to figure out his problem, with no dialogue from me.
While I waited in what felt like expanded time, I was amazed to find a trove of gifts landing in my lap. First of all, I realized MY honking and anger and chastising, though expected behavior in highly trafficked areas of large cities, is harmful to ME. I saw this man as someone who had made a mistake. Period. Perhaps he was was concentrating to see how he would be able to rectify it, or perhaps he was afraid, but the only thing I needed to do was see my part in rectifying the situation.
Without much fuss or deliberation, I saw that my role was not to cause him more grief, but to help him move into the best use of his brain. My convenience was ruffled, but that split-second decision to rest in my own calm created space for me, providing the vision that my convenience was not of issue. And yes, those behind me were angry, and as I moved forward out of the intersection, those who were waiting to turn left in the opposing direction had to wait a full cycle instead of proceeding through their turn, launching handwaving and horn-honking at me, the supposed culprit who caused the crisis of the moment.
I moved along, aware of the impact of such a moment, a “post-Covid” moment if you will. “Remember this,” I said in my head and then proceeded. I recognized that something important happened , something important for me.
Upon entering the parking structure, I not only found a parking space but easily plotted out the path to the valet access where my father-in-law would be waiting for me when his appointment was over, with a smile on his face and a happy report from the doctor.
I write this now so I will remember. The novelty of driving in traffic for the first time in a year seemed to clear out old patterns. I was given the opportunity to act differently. I was able to see a common situation in a new way, a way that benefited ME. I was completely non-judgmental about any previous driving actions on my part, the current actions of the person in front of me, or those who reacted to the situation with anger. I simply made sure I contributed to the safety of others.
I am grateful for being able to see something so clearly, in a new way. And while I still give myself permission to honk when I pass the horrific signs that obfuscate the truth about the actions of the Southern California Gas as they prepare to deface land and endanger wildlife in the La Ballona Wetlands, I could see clearly that we always have a choice for peace or chaos. It’s in our hands.
I hope we all can put this year behind us at some point. It’s been and continues to be a horrible plague, this Covid 19, and the death and destruction perpetuated by uncaring and misguided national leadership has left quite a deep level of muck for us all to clean up. Families and friends have lost loved ones, helpers are still challenged after much heroic dedication to their lifework, businesses have closed, children’s lives have been severely affected with the structure of daily school dissolved, and many people have felt the deep economic impact. We have much to do while some continue to play politics instead of seizing the opportunity to bring people back to normal. May we each find that spark of awareness that can bring a new perspective of help and hope.