Thank God for stop lights.
If you are like me, it’s not hard to get caught up in the whirlwind of life, sweeping you off your feet as you try desperately to keep up with family, work, and various social networks—real and virtual—that matter a great deal to you. In fact, we often get swept off our feet without even realizing it—sometimes for months or even years at a time. Our lives seem out of control, a pinball being smacked from bumper to bumper, rolling at unimaginable speeds toward the next event. Sadly, we don’t even know that we need to slow down.
But stop lights. They remind us the importance of seizing 30 seconds of silence to reclaim a fraction of what is most important in our lives. And, perhaps even more important, to take an inventory of the signals we’re sending out to others.
That is, if we choose to slow down.
Yesterday, with a car filled with family, I pulled up to a red light and felt myself wondering autonomously how to use that half-minute. Instinctively, I checked my Blackberry for incoming messages (with my Twitter feeds, there’s always something to read), took a sip of Coke Zero, skipped over a few songs on my iPod playlist, and half-heartedly nodded to something my wife was saying.
Really—I had no idea what she was talking about. I was too busy pushing buttons and making the most of my red-light pit-stop.
Or was I?
My daughter was saying something in the back seat, too. I glanced up into the mirror to give her a reassuring glance and nod, and started to return to my stare at the red light and begin the countdown: five…four….three…
But as I turned to look ahead, I caught a glimpse of my eyes in the rearview mirror. They were insanely intense, creased with crow’s feet with a heavy brow jutting forward in some Neanderthal-like manner.
I didn’t even recognize myself. Worse, I was shocked that I was sharing this face with those whom I loved the most.
Maybe we were all going through the motions a little—they, hopeful that someone would care; me, participating in the physical aspects of conversation; all of us, moving at the speed of light in our own little worlds, ignorant of the other life-pulses around us, just inches away.
I barely had a second to exhale and relax the muscles in my face before the light turned green, and I had to go forward once again. But that time between lights, I thought about the signals I’m sharing with the world when I let the whirlwind sweep me up.
I know this might sound crazy, but the only thing that I regret about the way I behaved during my mother’s funeral two years ago was the signal I was sending out to others at the service as I walked to and from the altar to deliver the eulogy. My face was tense; I remember thinking to myself that the message I was telling others was one of pain, sorrow, intensity.
I wanted to tell them peace, patience, gratitude, love.
At the next stop light, I put my hands in my lap and looked into my wife’s eyes while she talked about paint colors for our bedroom as well as for our daughters’—tea green for ours, a lighter, melon green for theirs. Suddenly, but without her realizing it, I think, her face relaxed a little, and she shared more about painting this weekend despite a hectic schedule.
The tweets could wait, the song was just fine, and my face relaxed.
And this time, when the light turned green, we were all going forward together, despite the whirlwind that nagged and tugged all around us. We can live our busy lives, align with the latest technology, and communicate instantaneously with the virtual masses that wait on the other side of our Blackberries and laptops. But we must also live our lives sharing peace, patience, gratitude, and love every chance we get.
Take the 30-second life check as often as you can, and offer the world the love so desperately sought. You may very well be the red light someone needs to make a change in his or her own wonderful world—a change that will last long after that light turns green.