Rote Route

I drive the same route to and from our daughters’ school at least twice a day. Five right turns, four left; eight traffic lights, five stop signs each way, plus a brief salute to the policeman directing traffic at Jefferson and Van Buren. I can drive the route in my sleep and given my affinity for multitasking, likely have. This route is as ingrained in my memory as my daily brush and floss routine; the auto pilot of my mind. As of this writing, mental cruise control is neither illegal nor regulated. But perhaps it should be.

While driving home this morning, I witnessed a horrifying car accident. The black sedan in front of me changed lanes and collided with a white delivery van. The force of the impact sheared the front end off of the sedan and flipped the van onto its passenger side with awe-inspiring ease.

Minus a camera and a beaming director screaming “cut,” the scene was movie perfect. Miraculously, the two drivers and their passengers exited the cars unaided, visibly shaken but moving all their limbs. Several drivers from nearby cars and a group of young pedestrians ran over to check on the victims. Someone called 911.

I joined the group of good samaritans and offered my assistance, consisting of a gaping mouth and careful avoidance of the fluids leaking from the sedan’s engine. Within minutes, the police arrived and began directing traffic. I returned to my car and joined the procession of other cars inching away from the scene.

Although I was driving mere feet behind the black sedan, I can’t describe exactly what I witnessed. I can replay the moment of impact in my head in dramatic, slow motion detail, but can’t visualize what happened in the moments before the accident.

I wasn’t talking on my cell phone (though I often do) or texting while I drive (which I don’t) or even picking Raisin Bran detritus out of my teeth. Instead I was mentally plotting the myriad tasks I wanted to accomplish today, down to the phone calls to return and the ingredients needed for a cheesecake I’m baking for my husband’s birthday. My driving was on auto-pilot; my mind everywhere except in the moment.

The sound of screeching tires and crunching metal broke my reverie. If it hadn’t, today would be like any other day, and I wouldn’t remember a single detail about my drive home. I don’t need drugs or alcohol or texting to impair my driving. The scattered daily machinations of my brain impair me enough to be a danger to myself and others.

I’m sure I’m not alone. With our busy lives and multitasking superpowers, I’m confident many of us aren’t as present as we could be while operating heavy machinery. Our brains are racing down the German autobahn while our bodies are stuck in rush hour traffic.

This auto pilot mode scares me, especially when we’re transporting precious cargo, but also in more mundane ways.

When I’m wielding a sharp knife to chop vegetables later today, I’ll likely be thinking about the dress I keep forgetting to return to Bluefly. When I’m playing my requisite seven minutes of Barbies this afternoon with my daughters, I’ll likely be thinking about all the Yeah Write posts I could be catching up on. Harmless? Perhaps. But I’d like the ability to be where my body is and take in what’s offered in the moment. For someone who hates to be left out of anything, I may be missing out on a boatload of joy. At the very least I’m at risk of losing my fingertips to a merciless Ginsu knife.

I guarantee that for the next day or so I’ll be more present while I’m driving, forcing extraneous thoughts from my monkey mind. I also guarantee that before long, I’ll slip back into my auto-pilot pattern. Perhaps the next generation of auto safety features can address this issue. I’m thinking a haunting, disembodied voice that periodically reminds me to pay attention and zaps me with an electric current would work well.

The best I can promise is that today I’ll be grateful for all the times I’ve driven safely and pray my guardian angels keep up the good work. However, if you see me on the road, please consider honking or throwing a rock at my window – anything to jolt me back to my life.

Linking up again with the supportive community of bloggers who write and the writers who blog over at Yeah Write. Click on the badge to read some great writing and come back on Thursday to vote for your favorites. And be sure to say Happy Birthday to Flood!

62 thoughts on “Rote Route

  1. Such a powerful story (omgosh!) and convicting message here Mary!! SO true we all completely disengage while doing those mundane effortless and often trivial but CRITICAL tasks… I rarely am in the moment- like you and probably most women. Always thinking about the next moment, the to do list and all the other ramblings in my circus of the mind. Those moments where you see something jolt you awake- make you and all of us realize to re-focus and be grateful it was your post that impacted us, and not a car. (or a knife!)

  2. Beautiful, witty and creative post! I appreciate the reminder to be where my body is at any given point and the opportu it’s to connect with you f

  3. oh horrible! and i so know the auto pilot mode. there have been times, i’m embarrassed to admit, that at times i’m driving and getting to a place with no memory of getting there. you’ve reminded me to be more present too. it’s hard. you can’t turn off your brain. ohhh how i wish i could turn off my brain!!!

  4. Whoa, that had to be scary, especially since you were right behind the black sedan. I think most of us do things while our minds are on something else, so you definitely aren’t alone.

  5. When I did the Three Day breast cancer walk, they showed a really scary video to force us to be safe while walking. This is a great re-reminder. I hope to be present and not do the auto pilot thing. Great post!

  6. I can’t tell you how many days that I’ve thought back on the morning commute/daily agenda/dinner conversation/and so on and realized that it was a blur. Like the kind we used to have in our single, bar hopping days. “Did I really take the kids to school this morning?” You’re right.. we need to be right here in the moment more often because these moments are fleeting.

  7. I drive so much of the time on autopilot and end up somewhere wondering how safe it is. The thing is that I don’t realize I’m even doing it. I think it’s a great point to kind of be present, and I definitely will bee keeping that in mind this week after reading this!

  8. I drive on autopilot so often, and those moments when I snap back in are incredibly disconcerting. When I realize that I had completely zoned out for blocks. Or when I get to the train station and can barely remember driving there. Thanks for this reminder to stay present and aware, even when it’s just ourselves in the car.

  9. I think I am hypervigilant while I am driving. There are just so many bad writers out there on the road. I’m glad you are okay. Definitely a reminder about how precious life is — and how we all need to hug the people we hold dear. Because you just never know who you might bump up against.

    Now, if only I could remember when I PARKED. That would be awesome. 😉

  10. ugh, i’ve definitely done that. i drive “in the zone” all the time, and have even been known to miss a turn or go toward my house on autopilot instead of where i was supposed to be headed. or, just completely forget the past 5 minutes of driving. being present while driving (especially with kids in the car) is so important.

  11. I kind of feel like my daughter’s accident – and miraculous recovery – took up one of our nine lives- and there were a few of the nine taken before that one, so I need to get out of my autopilot. That monkey in my mind needs to get back in his cage. What a scary (but good) reminder!

  12. Wow. So scary to be so close to such a serious accident. You could have written this from inside my brain. I feel like I’m either on auto-pilot or in multi-tasking overdrive most of the time. I’m making a focused effort to do less of that and to be present more.

  13. I’m so glad you are ok. That is very scary and I know I do that auto pilot thing a lot. I drive 25 minutes to and from work, mostly on the highway. This morning I was on the clover leaf from one highway to the next and for a moment I wasn’t even sure where I was. It was eerie, but I know it’s because I was going over the things that I was getting ready to teach for that day in my mind. It just is so easy to get lost in your thoughts.

  14. Thank G-d, everybody got out of the accident okay.
    My mind races on that Autobahn alot. I try to slow it down – it is a battle. There have been times where I was walking somewhere and I am a point and I don’t exactly remember getting there. I have never been that distracted when it comes to driving though the mind does race.

  15. You speak the truth, my dear. We ALL need to take better care and be more present in our daily routines. Great telling, scary stuff, and thank you for the reminder!

  16. Wow! Thank you for the reminder – it’s hard not to have your mind going a million mph as you drive — I know I’m always thinking of something else… Glad that you are safe and sage and in the moment right now.

  17. So much truth here. I don’t drive, but I could definitely stand to live in and experience my moments more frequently. Thank you for the reminder . . . and so happy you’re safe!

  18. {Kathy} Those drives to and from school can be maddening. I have said before that I think it will say on my tombstone, “She drove and switched laundry. RIP” These moments of clarity come rarely when it causes us to focus—for real, focus—on what we are doing and how we are doing it. Thanks for sharing your honesty for all of us school-driving mommas out there.

  19. Oh, sigh, I am often not present in whatever task I’m doing, thinking about what I need/should/want to be doing. Moments like that always jar me back to where I am, but never for too long.

  20. Guardian angels are busy protecting us moms! It’s about being present in the moment. I struggle with this too. I’m glad the outcome of your “jolt” was on the positive side because we all know how quickly or close things come and then change in just a second.

  21. You know what’s funny? Just before I started reading your post, my son came over and started explaining his video game to me. I was all a flurry of “yeah, yup, uh huh” because I wanted to get back to catching up on the Yeah Write posts. Then I read this. It was the honk of the horn, the rock on the window that I needed. Thanks. 🙂

  22. I wish I knew how to shut my monkey mind off and just “be where my body is”. If you ever learn the secret, you’ll have to let me know. I fear that I’ll end up in an accident myself someday, because of my auto-pilot.

  23. It is so easy to miss the now. And sometimes it is so easy to forget everything that is so good in your life because you are focusing on everything that needs to be done. I know I do this. Sometimes it takes a jolt to wake us up again.

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