NaBloPoMo 2017: Field Notes from a Life in Medicine—Last Post
It’s December 1 here in Chicago, but I have almost 2 hours before midnight in California, and 5 hours in Hawaii, so I’m still counting this post as on time. Meh whatever, it’s my blog and I can do what I want—last post for NaBloPoMo 2017, woo hoooooooooo!!
Okay so, when was the last time you gave another driver the finger? I can’t even remember myself, maybe high school? Definitely by the end of college I had stopped, and I can honestly say I probably only ever did it a handful of times. In college I was in a car with friends and the driver cheerily wagged his finger at another car that had cut us off. He didn’t get angry, but rather acknowledged the rudeness with humor. At least I thought it was humorous. So I’ve been doing it ever since—but with varying degrees of good humor.
Last week I was driving to work (you know what’s coming). As I approached an intersection about 1.5 car lengths behind the sedan in front of me, where we had no stop sign but the cross street did, I could see a car inching out at the corner. I anticipated that it would try to make a turn after the car in front of me passed, thereby causing me to have to slow down. Sure enough that’s what happened, and I wagged my finger. I suppose my intent was to shame, I’m embarrassed to write. If I were that driver, I might have felt ashamed, and also annoyed at the gesture. He, in turn, showed me a stiff, straight middle finger, accompanied by an unmistakable expression of the very same message—eye contact and all.
That hurt my feelings, I’m also embarrassed to report. Not quite sure why I’m embarrassed—because I kind of deserved it, or because we’re not supposed to let stuff like this get to us? Whatever, it felt bad and I didn’t like it. After reflecting over the next mile or so, I decided that from now on I will simply treat other drivers with kindness first, regardless of the crazy antics they perpetrate on the roads (and let me tell you, in Chicago it can get pretty crazy). That is the resolution that makes me feel the best. And now I’m even more embarrassed and ashamed because this is pretty much how my mom treats all drivers (all people, really) since I can remember. Well, better late than never.
I’m trying to remember how I came to this conclusion, because it took like quick-drying super glue, and I have abided by it firmly ever since. I tried to imagine myself in that driver’s place. What would make me in such a hurry that I would intentionally inconvenience another driver, who has the right of way, to get going just a few seconds sooner? Was he really late for work, or to see a sick relative in the hospital? Was he just an impatient driver in general? Regardless, was my finger wagging helpful to either of us? Would it make him less likely to do the same thing again? Maybe it would have been better if I had waved, offered some grace and generosity of spirit? If I were him, I would certainly appreciate that more than a pompous finger wagging.
Exercising patience and generosity on the roads is easier said than done, though, am I right? Surely I cannot be the only one challenged by this? Now that I think more about it, maybe my embarrassment at feeling hurt by his gesture relates to the fact that society tells us in a lot of ways that we’re not supposed to treat other drivers as human—and thus not be affected by them. Jockey for position, don’t let ‘em in, fuck ‘em. Stupid gestures should mean nothing, because we’re simply expected to treat one another like garbage. It feels like this when I let someone in my lane and they don’t wave. No acknowledgement, no appreciation. That doesn’t feel good, and it’s not who I am.
Long ago I realized that I almost never need to get anywhere so urgently that I need to cut people off or risk my safety, or that of my passengers, in the car. Whenever I see someone signaling to get in my lane, I almost always make space for them. I try to avoid entering intersections I cannot clear, because I hate when cars do that and cause gridlock, especially at rush hour. But somehow I didn’t see the finger wag as contrary to these other acts of driving courtesy—in this respect I guess I was stuck in the ‘fuck ‘em’ mentality. So it makes sense that after experiencing the other side, and so emphatically, I realized that the only thing to do for my integrity is to reject that behavior altogether.
So, no more finger wagging. Maybe I’ll take a deep breath and find some other, more neutral expression? It feels necessary to acknowledge my own frustration, but not necessarily to project it on the other person. Maybe I need a mantra. *Deep breath* “You be safe now.” *Deep breath* “You do you, I’ll do me.” *Deep breath* “Thank you for not hitting me.” *Deep breath* “I remind myself that you are a fellow human being, and we are all here doing the best we can.” Maybe a more succinct version of that last one. I’ll work on it. I’m sure I’ll be working on it for a long time yet.
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Thanks to all who have read along this month, it’s been fun! Now onto holiday cards, each of which I will once again attempt to write by hand this year. It just feels like the right thing to do, and I get to break out my fun colored pens. In case I don’t make it back in time, Happy Holidays to all, and best wishes in 2018 and beyond!