The Rev. John F. Hudson| Columnist
Well I left my job, About five o'clock, It took fifteen minutes, To go three blocks, Just in time, To stand in line, With a freeway looking, Like a parking lot. Damn this traffic jam....
-- James Taylor
I beeped my car horn this past Friday, while sitting in an epic traffic jam on Route 128, at that most hellish of times for auto congestion, the late Friday afternoon commute. Folks all rushing to get home or rushing to get to the Cape or rushing to get to the mall or rushing to get to their kids'sports game or just rushing for the sake of rushing, I suppose. With white-knuckled grips upon the steering wheel, we commuters started and stopped and rolled and halted in an all too familiar vehicular dance.
Cars and trucks were backed up as far as I could see, behind and in front of me. I sounded my horn when an errant BMW SUV cut me off, zooming by on my right, in my blind spot; hence the toot. But he or she only made forward progress for a car length or two because very quickly they were also at a dead stop in that sea of vehicles, a tsunami of packed and idling pick-up trucks and sedans and minivans and delivery trucks, lined up from horizon to horizon.
Damn this traffic jam.
The odd thing, the telling truth of this story is that it was the very first time Id found myself trapped in this kind of traffic since March of 2020, some 14 months. Like everyone else in our COVID times, Ive lived a largely traffic-free existence for some 400 days. In those carefree times of driving without delay, I glided with nary another car around, down a quiet Route 93. I maneuvered like a silent and meditating monk over the Mass Pike. I vroomed up to Vermont on deserted stretches of Route 89. I even zipped right through the middle of downtown Boston and found a parking space without a hassle. Thats a miracle!
It was driving bliss then. But now? Traffic is back.Big time.
According to statistics from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, at the height of COVIDs grip on our state, traffic was down by a whopping 60% in April 2020. But one year later, we are all back behind the wheel, it would seem. By mid-last month, traffic was down by only about 10%. And now in mid-May? Full on traffic has returned, as if it never missed a beat, was hiding and just waiting to make its comeback.
So too returned is my high blood pressure and scrunched-up shoulders and fuming frustration that always manifest in a driving slowdown or a terrible traffic jam. I fiddle with the radio. I call 511 on my phone to get the latest traffic update. I listen to my book on tape in the hope that it can soothe the savage beast just below the surface of my spirit. It cries out. LET ME OUT OF THIS TRAFFIC! NOW!But the traffic gods are fickle and so I sit. I wait. I watch as the time to arrival estimate on my GPS goes up and up and up.
There are so many realities that were and still are just awful when it comes to our COVID lives. So many deaths. So much sickness. So many unemployed. So many businesses shuttered, and houses of worship closed and ball games cancelled and face-to-face visits with loved ones curtailed. Like everyone else I want to escape the weird times weve been living in. Yet I also confess Im a bit anxious about our return to the status quo.
Because if COVID has taught us anything it is this: there was some grace to be found in how much our world slowed down and our lives opened, and how we had space to breathe in this past year. To clear out and simplify the calendar. To spend so much more precious time with the people in our households. To be reminded of just how important our relationships are in this life: with family whom weve zoomed with weekly, and friends weve shared driveway cocktails with, and jobs made less stressful when performed from home.
And with traffic that went away.
Im not saying we should go back somehow, no. Absolutely not. But I am wistful about what we are losing and seem on track to return in the coming months. Busyness. Rushing. Stress. Already cries of Im so busy! and My schedule is jam packed! and My weekends are booked solid! are becoming the norm again in conversations. What a gift it would be if we could leave COVID behind but retain some of the space, the amazing space, and the extra time and the quiet and the simplicity we were given in the 14 months just passed.
Thats what I was thinking about last Friday, as I sat in my car, averaging a top speed of four miles per hour.
Damn this traffic jam.
The Rev. John F. Hudson is senior pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn (pilgrimsherborn.org).If you have a word or idea youd like defined in a future column or have comments, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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