As I drive, I find myself bobbing my head and jutting out my chin at intervals. It’s not about the music. It’s about the same kind of movements that I practiced earlier in the shower – a movement that soothes me with its rhythm. It’s a jerky, strange bobbing motion that matches of beat of no music I know of. I sense that other drivers are staring at me, but I don’t care. I’m on a mission to get to work, and that’s that. I’ve got no time and no energy and no spare thought cycles to look at other people in their cars and figure out what they’re thinking. I’ve got no time to look around at the scenery passing by on this beautiful day, or pay any mind to the little Canada geese goslings nibbling grass near their parents on a patch of neatly cut lawn along the little river that winds through the countryside. There’s no time to pay attention to anything except what’s going on around me in traffic.
Some days I try to look around when I’m driving to work. I feel like I miss a lot, and I do. But even when I do try to take it all in, I don’t always see things. I’ve been driving the same road for years and when I take the time to observe it, I always see things that I have never ever seen before. Houses that I never realized were there, trees, side roads, shrubbery, new roads… and so on. The times that I have ridden on this road as a passenger in a vehicle rather than the driver, I’ve been surprised to see the houses, the trees, the landscape, the hills, the streams, the ponds, the birds everything. It’s like being in a completely different world. A whole new world of wonderful vibrant possibility. And a world that I’m sometimes painfully aware of missing, when I am not focused on it.
But, I tell myself, it’s a small price to pay for safety. I will gladly miss the experience of seeing all sorts of sights around me, if it means that I get safely from home to my destination, where I can earn my living. That’s what matters to me, and that’s what matters to the people around me as well.
I always drive with a keen sense of responsibility, I take comfort in fulfilling my responsibility of being a good citizen and a good driver. After all, I’m doing my part to keep the roads safe for others, not to mention their loved-ones who want to see them come home in one piece. The entertainment of looking around and see something of interest is hardly worth me driving off the road and hurting myself or others.
My single-minded focus that blocks out everything else (and keeps me and others safe) comes with a price. But as I said, it’s worth it. And it’s a regular part of my life, which doesn’t just happen on the road. Something will be right there in front of me for hours and I will not see it. I once was at a group gathering, sitting across from a potted plant on a table on the other side of the room. It wasn’t obscured from my view. I was literally sitting in a chair, looking in its direction, without ever even seeing it there. After a few hours, I noticed it and wondered how it just magically appeared like that. It had been on the table at eye level across the room from me the whole time, but I never saw it.
The same thing happens to me with hearing things. Either I won’t hear things that are said to me, or I’ll hear things, but I won’t understand what it means, immediately. I tend to drive my partner crazy by saying, “What?” all the time, when she talks to me. Sometimes it takes me a few minutes to understand that she actually said something to me. I can hear her, but it’s all part of the sea of background noise that’s always around me. The ringing in my ears that never seems to go away… the sounds of wind and birds singing and passing traffic and the household appliances that turn on and off at random, the movements of people, and objects scraping across surfaces, the sounds of neighbors working in their yards… Her words are just more background noise to my ears which don’t differentiate. I dimly grasp that she said something to me at all, and it takes me a little while to figure out what the deal is, before I can even ask her to repeat what she said.
Now driving down the road, my head bobs, my jaw jerks back and forth, and my face twitches. I am still agitated from that morning, feeling stupid and foolish for falling behind and snapping at my partner. But after a little while of bobbing and weaving and ticking, I start to feel better. I feel much more calm, much more centered. I find myself settling into the rhythm of the car… the pumping of the engine… the hum of turning wheels… the feel of the road underneath me as I follow the curves and hills of this familiar route that I take each day. I check the clock and see it’s about time that traffic will be heaviest in an area I’m approaching. So I take a left at the stop sign instead of taking a right and I take the back road I often use when I need to get out of the flow. It adds about five minutes to my trip, but I am usually all by myself and I don’t have to negotiate the inconsistencies of other drivers or worry about people looking at me strangely.
Making my deliberate way down the road, some of my tension from the morning subsides and my agitation eases a little. Sometimes I’ll talk to myself, thinking aloud about my day, experiences I’ve had with people, or replaying conversations I’ve had that didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to. I could have an extended conversation with myself now, just about the few hours I’ve been up and around this morning. In the privacy of my car, I can discuss things with myself that have happened but I didn’t understand in the moment.
Today, I’m not much in the mood to talk — not with anyone else, and not with myself. I keep my attention on the road, my hands firmly on the wheel, and I let the CD play, repeating one song in particular. Over and over, it calms me down with its familiar rhythms, and I keep a steady pace on the final leg to work.