Occasional thoughts from a young adult reveling in the messiness of life.
It was the evening of December 24, 2011, and my husband and I were driving from Atlanta, GA to Birmingham, AL to see my family for Christmas. We left later than we had hoped, as there was extra clean up to do after the church’s Christmas pageant where my husband works. As the minutes kept ticking, we rushed to get our bags in the car and get on the road so we could make it to Birmingham in time for my favorite Christmas Eve service. But my car alarm unexpectedly went off, and it took us several minutes to get it to stop. The minutes kept ticking, and my hopes of making it to that church service on time were slowly fading.
When we finally got on the road, we merged onto the main thoroughfare in Atlanta, known as “the Connector”, where I-75 and I-85 merge into a massive interstate with anywhere from 10-16 lanes at various points that winds through downtown. Several miles before our exit onto the next interstate to head west, all lanes of traffic heading south slowed to a complete stop. No one was moving.
With the benefit of “Georgia Navigator,” a real-time website that tracks traffic and incidents around the city, we discovered that there was a major accident just a couple of miles ahead. A four car accident had all lanes blocked. It had happened just five minutes before.
Staring at the sea of red break lights in front of us, and the ever-deepening sea of headlights behind us, we sat there for a moment in silence. With the southern winter being relatively mild, we rolled down our windows and waited. Others did the same. But in the car slightly ahead of us in the next land, I heard a young lady yelling obscenities and calling for traffic to start moving again. “Oh, come on! F*&%$ MOVE!” followed by similar sentiments. They were obviously in a rush. And so were we.
It’s easy to empathize with her. I’ve been there, and we’ve all likely been there, too. I’ve sat in traffic many times, beating my steering wheel, concentrating on what an inconvenience the traffic jam is for me.
But this time, my reaction was different. My worries about getting to Birmingham slowly transformed into a silent prayer for all of those who were affected in the accident. Yes, I wanted to get to Birmingham for the service that I look forward to all year. Yes, we were stuck on the road. But we would likely eventually get to our destination, whereas there were at least five people (and probably more) who were having a much worse night.
I couldn’t help but think about them and their families. I couldn’t help but think that they could be laying on the road or stuck in their cars, bleeding, with their cars crumpled and broken glass strewn across the interstate. I couldn’t help but wonder how many lives changed that night. I wondered if they would even be able to get to their destination, or if they would be spending the night in the hospital–or worse. I couldn’t help but think that WE could have been in one of those five cars if my alarm hadn’t refused to turn off in our driveway.
With the upset lady screaming out of her window in the car in the next lane, I couldn’t help but wish and hope and pray that we could all be a little less focused on ourselves and our destinations and our plans when it’s clear that there are others in much worse conditions than us. So what if we wouldn’t make it to church that night? There could be someone who will never make it THROUGH the night.
Sure, traffic is a mess in Atlanta on any given day–accident or no accident. Sure, the holidays make traffic much worse, whether it’s because of people going to the mall or people just trying to make it home. In a sense, we’re all in the same boat (so to speak). We’re all trying to get from one place to another, and the traffic can make things much worse and frustrate us and delay us. But as long as we’re able to sit in traffic, one thing is for sure–we’re alive, and not everyone is so lucky.
So next time you’re trying to get somewhere, and traffic slows you down or brings you to a complete stop, try this: instead of getting mad, take that time to thank God for the fact that you’re alive. Take that time to pray for people whose lives may be forever changed (or taken away). Take that time to look at your loved one and thank God for his or her life, too. Take that time to pray for the loved ones of those who have been affected.
Take that time to breathe, and remember that even if you’re late or miss something, at least you’re alive.