Men Building Bridges #8
“What you seek, is seeking you.” – Rumi
I shook my head in disbelief as I watched college students, office workers & retirees attempt to navigate the crowded four lane boulevard while texting, making cellphone calls, adjusting make-up, and eating fast food, all while attempting to drive at the posted 45MPH. Suddenly, a creative, frustrated, naval-inspired expletive almost escaped my clenched mouth as I swerved tightly to avoid a much more mature driver talking on a cell phone straying blindly into my lane at 45MPH. In the heavy, dangerous traffic, I swallowed hard and took a deep, calming breath. It triggered several jarring memories of distracted moments.
My frustration vanished as I remembered. While in college, thinking I saw a friend at a local gas station, my eyes left the road in front of me for just a moment, and I rear-ended a car that had unexpectedly stopped at a green light, the other driver unsure of where to go. Fortunately, no one was injured. However, it did $200 damage to the other vehicle’s bumper, and totaled my car. A tough lesson for a struggling college student in a little red Chevette.
An avid, life-long cyclist, many years later, I was riding at a fast clip in a peloton of approximately 60 other riders, half-way through a 54-mile ride. All of us were drafting off of each other with just inches between our front tires and the rear tire of the riders in front of us. Reflexively, I drew in a sharp quick breath. Incredulous, at 30MPH+, a rider, inches in front of me, was grabbing awkwardly for a ringing cell phone in his back shirt pocket. With no hand signal, no warning, he squeezed his brakes with his other hand. I immediately knew I’d be forced to cross tires with him. I wasn’t distracted, but he was. He didn’t go down, but I did, rolling into the fall, end over end. Everyone else immediately scattered on a road with traffic. Fortunately, no one hit me. Stopping, I stayed curled in a ball, knowing better than to get up in the middle of a pack moving at that speed. Road rash, pride, and a rear wheel were the only casualties as I finished the remaining 30 miles nursing a wobbly rear wheel.
One more final memory flitted across my mind’s eye: ‘Huh? What did you say?’ my friend and passenger mumbled, distracted. I remembered the conversation, or at least trying to have a conversation. Driving with a friend, their iPhone was a constant distraction, audible notification triggering an immediate, pavlovian response that was instantly demanding and distracting. I was glad I was driving. They were infamous for using their cell phone for anything but talking while driving. Dings for constant text messages, check-ins, custom ringtones for games indicating it was his turn, status updates, tweets, emails, videos, jokes, news/sports updates and the occasional actual phone call, all completely obliterated and interrupted what was supposed to be time spent talking together on a road trip. Taking a deep breath, I quietly asked my friend if they could please completely turn off their cell phone and just enjoy our trip together. My friend, simultaneously annoyed and sheepish, powered down their iPhone, looking out the window. At first they struggled with a real, actual, face to face conversation. As the miles, music and time passed, they relaxed, remembering, and eased back into honest, actual conversation.
Flashing back to the present, I cringed, as a texting college student ran a red light, followed by an angry senior citizen, swearing loudly out of their open window. Both narrowly missed myself and another driver already in an intersection. I realized all it takes is a fraction of a second, an unexpected or willing distraction, for myself, or someone else, to place ourselves and everyone around us at risk of catastrophe.
Distractions come in many forms, some are intrusive, some are invited. Our reactions to those distractions can be just as immediate and intrusive. We can be so easily distracted. All it takes is a glance, or others’ driving, judgment, word, reaction, hyperbole, text message, anger, email, IM, ringtone, tv, computer, or image to misdirect our attention. We often remember to excuse our own moments of distraction chosen or otherwise. All the while, we are forgetting that a moment’s distraction can cause damage to ourselves or someone else.
Distractions can be dangerous not only while driving, but also at work, in our homes, in our marriages, in our relationships, in our families, in our jobs, in our daily lives, in our daily spiritual journey. What is your current distraction? Is it a reaction to a sudden stimulus or a well-rehearsed, habitual, chosen favorite used to deflect our own complicity in avoiding things and others around us? Are distractions destroying our relationships, chipping relentlessly away at our focus? Are the distractions more important than each other and the attention we are to be focusing? Are we seeking distractions or are we seeking God? We need to be careful what we are looking for, we may just find it, and end up with nothing but disaster. We always have a choice: to be distracted or focus. What are we looking for? We just might find it or it may just find us.