I always marvel at the priceless value of hindsight. How many times in your life have you said, “If I only knew then what know now I would…”
In the midst of our everyday travels we run across countless opportunities to either accelerate the pace of intensity or slow it down. Let’s just say, as a general rule I’ve done a much better job of accelerating than I have of slowing down. What can I say? It’s my default tendency, but the good thing about tendencies is that they can change with a little work and intention. The other day I got a chance to test both the speeding up and the slowing down skills. Of course it comes with a little story and here it is…
Last Wednesday I was traveling through what appeared to be a routine day. I woke up. I made a cup of tea. I did some writing around the house. I took the train to work. I went about my activities as the ringleader of a circus that brings joy and food to many travelers from near and from far. At the end of the day I was trying to make my usual quick exit so I could get to my “next” thing. Last Wednesday my next thing was a 4:30 pm yoga class. In order to make it to the north side for that 4:30 pm class I need to be walking out the door EXACTLY at 4:00 pm. Queue the timer please and let’s start my 90 minutes of insignificant intensity and illusion. Here we go!
4:00 pm – 90 minutes on the clock
I’m fully changed and ready to leave. I’ve done the work in advance to prepare for the transition to the team who takes over the reins at night. As I’m about to walk out the door a glitch appears. It’s not a big glitch and the facts are insignificant, but it’s going to cost me three or four minutes. In the span of a lifetime, three or four minutes is nothing. In the commute across the city of Chicago in rush hour three or four minutes are everything!
4:06 pm – 86 minutes on the clock
I consider taking an Uber instead of the train. An Uber might be able to get me to the studio by 4:30 pm. There is one small variable. It’s raining. If you live in the city of Chicago and you commute, you would rather have to deal with a swarm of locusts than to have to drive anywhere in the rain. Uber obviously knows this because what would have normally been a $10 ride is surge priced up to $29.
4:08 pm – 82 minutes on the clock
I give up on the idea of making it to the 4:30 pm yoga class and spend a minute pondering the absurdity of “rushing to get to yoga.” My wife Christiana is on the way downtown to work and if I had left in a dash to get to class I would not have seen her. I decide to take the opportunity to surprise her and visit her in the garage where we park the car. I walk up to the car, open the door and say “hi, sweetie.” She responds by bursting into tears.
4:15 pm – 75 minutes on the clock
I sit down in the car and we begin to chat. I have now devised a plan B in my mind which is to get to a different studio for a 5:30 pm class and I have just about enough time based on the rain and the traffic….IF I leave in the next few minutes…..I say nothing about this to Christiana. It turns out she’s not feeling well and she’s a bit concerned about being able to get through her shift. When you work in one of the most dynamic restaurants in the country you are a cog in a machine with many parts. If you can’t go last minute, the machine doesn’t have a replacement part readily available. That comes with a LOT of pressure. Fortunately she feels better after we chat for a few minutes and she lets one our managers know that she will be a few minutes late and heads to work. The extra few minutes were exactly what she needed to be able to get ready to get through the night. The extra few minutes for me? Well…
4:35 pm – 55 minutes on the clock
After we ride down the elevator together and kiss goodbye for the night I dash off to the train. Getting on the train traveling north at 4:35 pm instead of 4:00 pm is similar to the difference between being a single potato chip in a giant oversized bag vs. being an anchovy packed into a jar. I would have used the sardine cliché instead, but like I said it’s a cliché so I tried to get creative. I look to see when the next train is coming on the display board and the sign says 2 minutes. “Perfect!” I say to myself under my breath. Just enough time to add some money to my reuseable Ventra card and catch the train. I load $20 onto my card and run down the stairs to the platform to catch the red line. As I reach the bottom step of the stairway my eyes realize with horror what is happening and my mind forms the three words that Chicago rush hour commuters hate the most:
Cubs Night Game!
Whatever happened to the good old days when the Cubs were terrible and played all their games during the day in a half empty stadium in front of a bunch of drunken, unemployed losers!?! Okay maybe my spite is a little strong because I realize there is no way I’m getting on this train that is about to arrive
4:38 pm – 52 minutes on the clock
Over 500 people are vying for space on a train that is already overfull by at least 100 people. This is one of the particular joys of needing to board the train after it has already made all of the downtown stops. I quickly realize that I only have one option: Bail!
The next few trains are going to be equally overfull. There is no way I can get an Uber in the rain. I am left with only one option. Walk to the nearest brown line stop. It’s a sturdy walk of just less than a mile, but if I really hoof it and the train arrives quickly I can still get to the studio by 5:30 pm for class and find my serenity immediately. On the way out of the subway station I consider stopping at the CTA desk and asking for a refund for the ride I didn’t take, but I realized two very important things!
1) My energy was likely NOT in the place where I could have politely and kindly plead my case…
2) My time is more valuable than my money right now if I’m going to make class.
4:51 pm – 39 minutes on the clock
I am walking briskly in a light rain. I’m wearing jeans that I wish were a little less tight and a shirt that I wish wasn’t long sleeve and quite so warm. My shoelaces keep coming untied. I stop to lace up my boots tighter but once again they become untied. I finally decide that I’m not even going to bother to stop and tie them because they are just going to untie themselves yet again. I make it to the brown line stop and it is considerably less crowded than the red line. I knew this would happen because I’ve seen this movie play out before. The first train to arrive is actually a purple line. I see the conductor leaning out the window. I pull out my earbuds and I ask him if this train stops at Diversey. He replies, “Yes sir, it most certainly does!” I board the train and check my watch.
4:58 – 32 minutes on the clock
I have 32 whole minutes left to get to the near north side and then walk the half-mile from the train stop to the yoga studio. I put my earbuds back in and hope for the best. It’s looks like it will be a close call at best.
At the next stop after I board the train I hear a bit of a ruckus on the platform. I didn’t hear what was said on the platform by the patron, but I did hear the same conductor who was so kind to me say, “I got trained by a bunch of people who care a lot about making sure that people get places safely and quickly and I don’t need to be trained by you!”
More than a few of us looked around at each other and noted that it was an awkward moment. One man mouthed, “Was that intended for us?” Despite the melee none of us bother to take off our headphones.
5:01 – 29 minutes on the clock
The same conductor comes over the intercom. I can hear him well enough over the chill music that is humming in my ears and trying to keep me calmer. He says, “I’d like to apologize if you heard any of that outburst on my part. I realize that it’s a tough day for commuting and that our trains are running behind. We were due to arrive at Fullerton already and we haven’t even reached Armitage, but I can assure you we are doing our best to get you where you need to go safely and as quickly as we can….”
I started to connect the dots in my brain. Someone must have chided the conductor for the train being late and probably said something very unkind about his need for further training. I admired the conductor’s humility and kindness in taking ownership of his reaction and shifting the energy in the moment. I enjoy taking notice of how confrontational energy can easily shift back to peaceful energy with a bit of humility and contrition.
5:13 pm – 17 minutes on the clock
My train arrives at Diversey. I exit the train and get ready to dash to the right to the stairway to run to class. When I see the conductor leaning out the window two cars to the left, I stop in my tracks. I walk up to the conductor and hold out my hand and say, “Thank you for caring as much as you do. You are a gift…” He smiles and says, “I can’t tell you how much that means to me…”
I felt a great sense of pride in not rushing off without saying something. So many other times in my life I would have placed my own time ahead of that extra few seconds it took to change the course of somebody’s day.
5:24 pm – 6 minutes on the clock
Once again I’m walking briskly. It’s no longer raining but due to the earlier downpour, my jeans are wet from halfway down the calf all the way to my shoes, which are still untied. My shirt is wringing wet with sweat and a bit of rain, which I find uncomfortable, but since my intended destination is hot yoga in a 105 degree room, I note the irony of my discomfort. As I hit the home stretch of my 90-minute journey to the peace and serenity of hot yoga, I see a young man wearing a blue shirt waving his arms in the air wildly trying to get my attention. He is standing in front of Trader Joe’s holding a clipboard. Finally I notice that his blue shirt says, “American Civil Liberties Union.” I have less than 5 minutes to get into the studio, change and get my mat into a good place on the floor, but there is no way I can blow past this young man with my headphones on and pretend I don’t see him.
5:27 pm – 3 minutes on the clock
I pull out my headphones, I stop and I hold out my hand to the young man in the blue shirt. I say, “I have a class that starts in three minutes around the corner so I can’t stay and talk to you, but I want to thank you for what you are doing. It’s very important and I’m grateful to you. Please keep doing it…”
The blue-shirted man smiles and replies, “Man that’s the best thing that’s happened to me all day and it’s way better than any amount of money you could have ever given me…”
Once again I’m pleased that I made the time.
5:30 pm – Time Expires
I’m standing on my mat with my fingers interlaced under my chin ready to tilt my head back for the first pranayama breathing exercise…. just the same as I always am when I start hot a yoga class. I’m not in my favorite spot in the room. I didn’t stop to get a carton of ice-cold coconut water to take in with me because I was in a hurry. I forgot to grab a few Kleenex in case I need to blow my nose during class. None of that mattered though…
Instead I took the time to recognize the path of others and just as importantly to notice that time is really an illusion. There will always be another train. There will always be another class. There will always be another ice-cold coconut water. I’m finally starting to learn that the false deadlines that I place on myself are negotiable. When I make the time see others on the path with me and to see myself….I’ve got all the time in the world!