Detour Ahead

My commute to work is a rather straight shot and usually takes around 25 minutes. Considering that I leave early, I tend to miss the morning rush and  make pretty good time.

The other morning I was cruising along and saw flashers lighting up the dark. It turns out there was a bad accident and emergency crews were directing traffic down a side road I had never been down before, much less in the dark.

My first thought was one of panic, as my ability to directionally navigate is on par to Helen Keller’s in a maze.

If it’s not my normal route, there are no detour signs and it’s not light outside, you can pretty much expect me to end up four counties over, huddled in the backseat in the fetal position eating everything in my lunchbox for survival in the span on 20 minutes.

But I followed the cars in front of me and long story short, I realized where I was and made it to work with my mental faculties no more damaged than after accidentally hearing a snippet of a Nickelback song.

This would be a really boring story if I didn’t try and squeeze some deeper meaning out of it though, right? Let’s try, because while my first thought was one of panic, my second thought was a wee bit more centered.

“At least it wasn’t me in the accident.”

I was inconvenienced, yes, but I wasn’t a victim of some personal misfortune. There were people having a much worse morning than me—namely those in the accident—and the fact that I was stressing over finding an alternate route was actually quite absurd.

But don’t we do that more often than we’d like to admit? The screaming child in the grocery store, the traffic jam on our way home, bad weather—a lot of the stress and anxiety we feel comes from the internalization of external events and the feeling that they’re happening directly to us instead of around us.

The way we react to that misinformation is what actually intensifies the discomfort, not the events in and of themselves.

Now don’t get me wrong–crap happens, often directly to us. But we’re often victims of our old way of thinking and not some universal plot to destroy our inner peace (although I would argue that Comcast and people who drive slow in the fast lane are truly in on that plan.)

If we adjust our reaction to one of acceptance instead of resistance and adopt a new way of thinking about them—an emotional detour of sorts—we’re at least giving ourselves a chance to get where we need to go.

So much like my drive to work, I’m trying to stop my brain from operating on autopilot, aware that I can’t really practice contentment while continuing to identify with whatever darkness I’ve let cloud up my mind. I’m trying to remember that my internal reality doesn’t have to be dictated by external events.

Easier said than done—and I have five million half-posts written about this that will never see the light of blog—but the occasional detour can show us there’s more than one way to move on through the world. We can adjust or we can resist, and some days I do both in the span of 3.4 seconds. But progress not perfection and all those other used clichés.

I’ll get there one way or another.

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34 responses to “Detour Ahead

  1. I had a moment like this recently. The underground tube system in London is super busy (to give you an idea: there are about 10 lines, each one is used by 1 million people every day!) and people are SO impatient. People will loudly sigh and stomp their feet when they have to wait for the next train….which is ONE minute away. They should try living in Australia where the trains come every 20-30 minutes!

    Anyway, the other day there was an announcement saying that there were severe delays because someone had thrown themselves in front of a train. Everyone sighed and starting whingeing, and I found myself caught up in the hype too. Then I thought about it: everyone was only thinking about themselves and how they’ll be home 10 minutes late, when someone had just lost their life.

  2. You’re so good at making metaphors out of mundane things! You could be the voice over at the end of a grey’s episode 😀

  3. I have absolutely no sense of direction, so if there’s a detour of any kind, I’m fucked. So I understand.

  4. That was an excellent, well thoughtout post! Not to mention great advice as well!

  5. For the official record here, you talk an awful lot about being damaged, but I swear you are the healthiest and most rational person I know. Especially regarding Nickelback. Yikes. But seriously, you really are quite inspirational. Inspirational and funny at the same time. That might just make you my idol. Not my American Idol mind you because I think that show has some subliminal messages piped in to control the masses. Why else would everybody be addicted to it?

    Do you have a GPS? Although just following the car in front of you is usually a safe bet. Unless they work at the correctional facility. Then you might want to segue.

  6. Easier said than done for sure, but a much needed reminder today. Look at you!—all helpful and insightful and whatnot.

  7. “people who drive slow in the fast lane are truly in on that plan”
    I completely agree with this.
    Great post. I try to do the “emotional detour” often, but in the heat of the moment, it’s an easy method to forget about. Thanks for the reminder, which can’t come often enough.

  8. Argh. I could so relate to this. One time I had just enough gas to get to my friend’s house in Gilroy. There was construction so there was a detour. It took us quite a few miles off path. By the time I found a gas station to pull over my fists were balled up and I felt like my head was in a vice grip. It’s not like I was going to die. The worst that would’ve happened is me being on the side of the road hoping someone stopped to help. And if I’d have just filled my tank before leaving it would’ve all been avoided. I plan ahead a little better now.

  9. First of all – twins – I can’t get anywhere without a GPS and detours are a nightmare for me. Second, I always try and remember that – particularly with traffic caused by accidents. When I was in my early twenties, we hit some traffic and passed an accident that hadn’t been “cleared” – there was a victim still lying in the road, and someone he knew crying over him. That always comes to mind when I start to get fidgety and feel like I have “bad luck” for getting stuck in traffic.

  10. Very well put. I’m guilty of this only ALL. THE. TIME, and I love the way you compare things happenings to us vs. around us. It’s hard to step back sometimes and grab control of the reins and stop internalizing or taking personally the things that just naturally happen around us. It’s not easy, though, especially if you feel like a lot of shitty things are happening in a lump sum – everyone has a breaking point. As for directions, holy crap. I once drove to Paris while looking for my dentist’s office. Paris, Ontario, but that’s still like 1.5 hours out of town, LOL..I also once went looking for a gas station and ended up on a patch of farm land with cows. I am a walking advertisement for GPS.

  11. “my ability to directionally navigate is on par to Helen Keller’s in a maze.” That made me laugh so hard, because I am THE SAME WAY!

    I’m glad you made it to work on time, without getting lost!

    PS: Any time I see an accident or an ambulance, I immediately say a prayer, “Please G-d let them be okay.” And then I am thankful it wasn’t me.

  12. Before the school year started, I left early and either went to the gym or got to work 90 minutes before anyone else. Since august, I’ve put my 8-year-old on the bus then drove to work. Traffic is heavier and like you, there’s a maze and obstacles. Because i’m crazy, I’ve timed several routes in case of accidents, etc. Few things will make me freak more than when I do have to take of my detours and IT IS blocked.

    • They say we have five seasons here in Michigan–winter, spring, summer, fall and construction–which lasts all year. Unless there are signs posted, I’m totally SOL.

  13. This was incredibly well written, and really captured what I often think of doing (accepting what’s happening and not freaking out, staying in the moment, etc. etc.) but never seem capable of. Once I get anxious (whether it’s due to traffic, school, food) it’s as if a huge mental roadblock pops up, and I can’t just sit with it- I have to act, and I have to act NOW- often in ways that are detrimental to my overall wellbeing. That being said, like you, I’m working on moving beyond that and into a place where I can be okay with ambiguity, frustration, and confusion. I know you’ll get where you need to be, and your post gave me hope that I’ll get there eventually, too (even if I need my GPS).

    • Thanks for stopping by Marissa, and I’m glad you can relate in some way. Not to freak you out, but we have a lot in common. I’m glad we’ve connected a bit as of late and I have no doubt that yes, you will get there eventually as well–wherever “there” is for you.

  14. You never disappoint! 🙂

  15. The brain really does go a million unhelpful places when on autopilot, but remembering to be mindful at moments like that is such a challenge!

  16. This was wonderful advice. And I have to agree, a little diversion from the norm could make a big difference. Wouldn’t have met my husband if I stayed true to my daily routine.

  17. My sense of direction is worse than hopeless so any diversion spells chaos. The word “flasher” had a slightly different meaning in the Uk and can refer to a gentleman who has a problem with the arrangement of a certain item of his clothing so I was boggled for a second and rather lost my direction during this post. I dare not give clear directions about the subject but put “flasher” into google and all will become clear. A clear “LOL” moment for CD. Thankyou

    • Oh, we have flashers here, but I didn’t even think of that when I wrote this. Now I’m kind of disappointed. A flasher would have been way more exciting.

  18. What great insight! If only we would all complain less and be more positive, life would be less stressful.

  19. I know this thought process rubs some people the wrong way, but I find myself praying out loud when I’m forced to detour from my current life plans. Sure I get a few strange looks when I do this, but then I just pretend I’m weareing a bluetooth, and most people think I’m not talking to Jesus or myself.

  20. Whenever I hear a siren or alarm, I do a quick head count to make sure all my loved ones are accounted for.

    This is both literal, and figurative. 😉

  21. Wheneer I see an accident or someone pulled over with a flat or engine problem my first thought is “Poor bastard…so glad that isn’t me.”

  22. Well said. I read a book earlier the year that was basically about this – about how the way we perceive the world has the biggest impact on our mood.
    I try to take deep breathes, not take it personally when shit goes to hell in a fucking handbasket at work, or when my staff are in bad moods. . . but I find the more exhausted I am, the more stressed I am, the harder it is not to be gloomy as all get out and want to just give up on life :S

    I was supposed to do my first 5k run today. But Thursday I sprained my ankle. I keep trying to “see the bright side” – i have been forced into resting when I am hitting a wall with my exhaustion. But, then my driver side car door breaks, and now I’m crawling in from the passenger side and hurting my ankle every time I do it and sometimes I can’t help but scream “WHYYYYYYY?!” :S

    (but, yes, could be worse… my ankle is not broken, my car is still getting me to work, and I still raised $500 for breast cancer even if I didn’t actually run for breast cancer… gonna eat some ice cream now..)

    • $500! That. Is. Incredible. You win ALL the ice cream and the universe WILL reward you for all your good work, not just with the race, but with all that you do. The animals–and people like me–appreciate it 😉

  23. Sweet Baby Jeebus in a Hot Pocket I am Mapquest’s bitch; I cannot tell you how many times I have depended on it to avoid the regular road construction/detour dickery that is the plague of Portland, Oregon. I need to remember that in spite of being a narcissistic whore, the world does NOT revolve around me and I should thank my stars that I live in a country that has the capacity to pave and improve roads and design websites for directionally-challenged asshats like me. Thanks for keeping it real, Abby. ((fist bump))

  24. As always, great post. I do that all the time. I get caught up in how something effects me without first thinking about the other people. Sometimes I think about the other people first but I’d be lying if I said I’m even close to being a saint. Detours are good. They force us to find our bearings pretty quickly.

  25. Perception is worth paying attention to. Better a considered action rather than impulsive reaction.
    Nice insights here

  26. Absolutely, our “internal reality doesn’t have to be dictated by external events” Like you said easier said then done but I’m sure after the 100th conversation with yourself about an incident will begin to change that all together 🙂 There’s hope…

    Stopping by from Write on Edge 🙂

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