Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Wake-up Call: Risk and Reality

If we are lucky in life, we get wake-up calls, experiences which indicate that we have been playing with fire or ignoring signs, experiences which force us to stop and notice some parts of our lives which we have been trying to stuff under a rug and pretend are not there. I am afraid that I have gotten a few over the past month, the most recent being Friday night.

As I was driving on the freeway on my way to an anticipated weekend with my son, I got stuck in stop and go traffic, a common situation and one which always begs me to entertain myself with anything - anything! - but driving. My radio, my phone, my email all called out to me like sirens, and I, a master multi-tasker, was sure that, as always, I could beat all the statistics about multi-tasking while driving. Not so this time; the photo of my beloved car depicts the results of my distraction when I became yet another statistic and slammed into the stopped car in front of me on the freeway.

While embarrassed, shaken up and annoyed by the situation, it made me look long and hard at how much I indulge in the behavior of assuming "it can't happen to me". And this is my wake-up call - that it can and it did, that as much as I thought that somehow I was superior in some way that should make me be able to get away with dangerous behavior, I am not. And I need to stop.

I once dated a man who could - and did - text and drive, googling and looking up directions while driving, sometimes on two devices, and it both terrified me and thrilled me, thrilled me to watch someone else defy the odds and terrified me knowing that he was putting us both at risk, to say nothing of the risk he posed to other drivers on the road. I didn't ask or demand that he stop his behavior nor did I absent myself from it, and I realize now that while partially I was afraid of being seen as a wimp, I was also motivated by the thrill of the bravado of the risk and beating the odds. Macho behavior can be attractive and seductive; if it wasn't, we all would have stopped engaging in it or responding to it long ago.

My injured little car is proof that I am not somehow magically exempt from the risk. My bruised ego is proof that I was just fooling myself. I am grateful that this was only a wake-up call, and feel fortunate that I caused no greater harm. As I drove on the freeway today, I could feel those impulses calling out to me to glance off to my phone, to see if something important was happening outside my car. It was then I realized that learning to wait was something I badly needed a crash course in.

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