It is an early Thursday morning, and emotions are running as high as we are late. I am on a mission to get the kids to school – on time, no less – and I feel rushed, like a jackrabbit who accidentally consumed the wrong type of mushroom (or something like that – see previous post, similies are not my jam).
In a hurry and burning patience faster than my car is burning petrol (better?), I resemble everyone else on the road this morning. An unwitting, unbidden, bumper-hugging convoy, we all are. Content to move as fast as we want AND can get away with, and as long as we can each avoid the physical matter, if not the eye contact or creeping ire, of each other, we all just might be okay.
Don’t panic, people. We’ll make it through. Humanity is great. A gift even! Jesus called us to love people. HE loves all of these people. And I try!
I pull into a fast food drive-through as is my wont – I am nothing if not a good parent and send my kids to school on a biscuit sandwich-free stomach, I will not! – and take our place in the queue. As is becoming more common, near the spot where orders are given (known in Kentucky as the “ordering spot”), the single-lined queue splits into two separate lanes, each with its own speaker and menu screen. Past the ordering spot, the two lanes then converge again into one.
Elegant, efficient design, this. If it weren’t meant for human use, perhaps it would be ingenious. But as it is, it only stokes the feeling of disparate souls being forced to interact when they most certainly would like more than anything in the world to be about their real daily business. This has to be why teleportation and flying are among the most-coveted superpowers, a deep desire to be able to get from place to place sans other people.
Anxiety starts to creep in. Do I go next? Does that guy see me? Why is this menu board so big? Did I remember to order jelly?!! Big questions for such an early morning.
Merging. The first of several instances of this driving skill I will have to employ this morning as an operator of a motor vehicle in the great state of Kentucky, USA, Planet Earth.
It will be required again moments later, as, breakfast biscuit sandwich in (metaphorical) hand, I enter the round-a-bout which will feed us onto the highway (or not, as we so choose – round-a-bout exit choices can be a-plenty!).
It will happen later as part of the intricately-designed school drop-off system (the skills of our nation’s engineers are not simply limited to fast food parking lot installations, you know!), as I navigate among the other parents into the assigned lane from which I will deposit my children at their designated entry door.
It will happen minutes after that, as I join the crush of humanity trying to get onto an interstate that will take me toward my place of employment, and yet again as I join a marginally different crush trying to navigate off of said interstate onto progressively smaller roads and lanes and eventually into my office parking spot. It will also be likely present a few moments later as I enter the office proper; morning is one of several times of the day where a relatively large contingent of my colleagues can be found moving to and fro the coffee station, which itself is located inside a deep nook right outside a four-way hall with eight (count them, 8!) blind corners!
We do this every day, both on AND off the roads. Highways, parking lots, grocery aisles. Humanity trying to exist and move through life together, quite literally. Not wanting to be so social, necessarily, but having no choice but to interact in such a way in order to fulfill the ins and outs of a daily life lived across multiple spaces.
Because of this forced-together frequency, you would THINK we might be good at it. But we’re not. Sure, we can usually do it without physical impact, and the mechanics are simple – glance over your shoulder and tilt the steering wheel or the grocery cart or the shoulders 10 degrees to the left – but the act of merging seems to challenge us to our very core. It seems to be one of the skills we are least comfortable with, one which raises our ire and exposes our innate competitiveness. It brings resentment at our bad moments, straight-fire rage at our worst.
(Seriously, there are YouTube channels dedicated to road rage/store rage/parking lot rage/beauty salon rage incidents, much of them apparently stemming from one person crowding the personal space of another. I advise you not to seek out these channels, by the way, unless you want to feel really, really low for the rest of the day.)
Merging: “to cause to combine or coalesce; unite“. Perhaps it is the final synonym in the definition that holds at least a small clue as to the reason for our condition: to merge is to unite. Perhaps we cannot merge because we cannot unite? Or, maybe, it’s the other way around: We cannot unite because we cannot merge?
Which came first: the chicken, or the chicken’s debilitating outrage that there are other chickens in the farmyard?
Perhaps Middle and High School are to blame. In grade school, we had a place in line, we were shown it, we were taught to respect it, and we moved through the halls in light of its existence. But as we got older, we were left to find and claim our own place. No longer bound to a straight line with our peers, we had our pick of the three earthly dimensions, could go our own way, make our own literal path. As such, the halls of the school become more chaotic. Just as surely as we learned about Vasco da Gama and the Pythagorean Theorem, we learned, at least at a heart level, that some people meander at a painfully slow pace, and some cannot fathom not going from place to place in a straight line, and fast. Some don’t care, and some care too much.
And indeed, the young men and women who clogged up the isles of the school hallway, paying no heed to the coming and going traffic, and the ones who raced pell-mell as if the fate of the universe depended on them reaching Earth Science, well, they (WE!) carry those traits out onto the highways and byways of this great country as adults.
Having said all of this, perhaps it’s just me. Perhaps my assessment of how people feel about driving and merging and stopping and starting and gas prices and road construction and can you believe the cost of an oil change these days! – ahem, perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps all of the other folks on the roads with me, folks who Jesus loves, are enjoying themselves. Perhaps that look on the face of the man in the dual-wheeled truck, the look I took for complete rage, was actually a laugh or a sneeze or a breakfast biscuit logged in the throat.
Perhaps that extended finger one fellow commuter wagged at another WAS actually intended to relay that the owner of the finger considered his object to be “Number 1!”.
Perhaps it’s the coffee and cholesterol clogging my judgment and skewing my assessment of humanity in transit.
But seriously, have you seen these gas prices?!
Happy Friday! May all of your merges be successful and your gestures be kind!