It was 7:30 pm on a Wednesday night. I was on my way back to Waco from my grandfather’s funeral that afternoon. I had spent five hours in the car that morning driving to Arkansas, and I had left at 4:30 pm so that I could make the five-hour trek back to Waco in time to get to bed by 10:00. Everything was going according to plan, until I saw brake lights up ahead. Lots and lots of brake lights. And that’s when I knew that I was not going to make it home at a decent time.
I couldn’t tell how far ahead the traffic jam started. It had to be at least a mile, and there were cars piling up behind me for at least two miles back. I had no idea what was going on or how long I was going to be stuck there. So I put my car in park and waited. And waited. And waited. I sat in the same spot for nearly two hours before traffic finally let up so that I could continue along my journey. And by the time my car finally started moving again, I was so angry I could stand it. I was livid.
Now I think I have a pretty basic understanding of how traffic works. As long as everyone stays in their lane and follows the road signs, things tend to go pretty smoothly. Sometimes traffic has to slow down because of lane closures and construction, but I can handle that. I don’t mind going a little bit more slowly through construction zones because I can understand that. What I do mind, however, is not moving. Just sitting there, on the road, in my car, with nothing to do, when I could be at home doing something much more productive. That bothers me quite a bit.
Another thing that bothers me about traffic is not knowing why. Why aren’t the cars moving? I didn’t see any signs about construction work. I wasn’t near any big cities. It wasn’t a major travel holiday or even rush hour. So I couldn’t understand why I was forced to sit there on I–30 for two hours when I could have been making my way home after a long, exhausting day. And not knowing the answer to the “why” question—or having any way of getting an answer to that question—frustrated me to the point that I became pretty upset.
When traffic finally let up, I saw the cars ahead of me move. Except for the truck right in front of me. It didn’t budge. I saw cars moving ahead like nothing had happened, and yet here was this truck directly in front of me doing nothing. My first instinct was to get angry with the person in front of me. But then I realized that he or she had probably just fallen asleep while sitting still on the road for two hours, and I had to admit that I had considered taking a nap myself had I not been distracted by the episode of Parks and Recreation I watched. So instead of seeing the person in front of me as an antagonistic obstacle standing between me and my destination, I saw him or her as a relatable comrade in this situation who was probably just as frustrated as I was and who probably just wanted to get home. I gave my steering wheel a quick push to honk in the most non-menacing a way I could. The person in front of me awoke, and we all drove off as if the two-hour-long traffic jam had never happened.
As I drove forward, I saw police lights on the side of the road. I didn’t get a good look as I was passing by, but it looked like there had been some kind of car wreck a mile or so ahead of where I had been stopped for two hours, and that was what had caused the holdup. I realized that while I was sitting safely in my car fuming over losing a couple of hours of my life, someone else could have been in real danger of losing much more than that. Their health. Maybe even their life. Or for others, maybe a loved one. And I realized that my fury over being stuck on the road for a couple of hours was probably unnecessary. I said a prayer for the people involved in the wreck, and I made it home safely, although a little later than I had hoped I would.
There are things in this world that make us angry. We all have pet peeves. And I’m sure most of us get frustrated when we get stuck in traffic. But the truth is that getting stuck in traffic, like most of the things we tend to get angry about, isn’t really that big of a deal. There are much worse things that could happen, and there are people out there right now dealing with those things. So the next time I’m feeling livid, I’m going to do my best to look outside myself and see things from another person’s point of view. I may not be able to change my situation, but at least I can find something fun to distract myself, join in with the others who are stuck in the same spot, and laugh it off until it’s all over.