The other night I was stuck in a really long traffic jam. It was 2am and I had a one hour drive home, and about ten minutes from home traffic came to an abrupt halt.
The radio said the jam was reported to take one hour.
Meanwhile traffic had started crawling at a very slow pace.
So I did what I always do in such situations. I chose an “adversary”. When I was young, I was stuck in a traffic jam and my dad was driving, and I asked him why he didn’t change lanes all the time – there was always one lane going faster, why shouldn’t we be there?
(Time moves slowly when you’re younger so traffic jams were quite an excruciating experience for me).
My dad told me that he’d tried that in the past, and had reached the conclusion that it hardly even matters – you don’t make more than a few car lengths of progress. He told me to pick a car from the other lane, and that I would see that in a while I’d probably still see the other car.
So now, 20 or so years later, I was doing the same thing. Picking an adversary.
As it so happened there was an unoccupied taxi standing in the lane to my left. The driver was dark skinned with a mustache. He would do.
There was nice music playing on the radio so I wasn’t too bothered at having to wait. I was tired, but a tired mind can be quite imaginative, and driving in the middle of the night with my adversary to my left and good music on the radio was quite a pleasant experience.
Then his lane started moving faster.
Should I switch? Whenever I do the other lane suddenly starts moving slower, and I regret switching. Also, that would ensure victory for my adversary – at this point he was so in front I could barely see him.
So I stayed my course, and watched the other lane move faster and faster. Then, after a while, things changed. Suddenly my lane was the one moving faster. Much faster. It wasn’t long before I could see my adversary again, and a few minutes later I had passed him. Then a bus that was in front of me switched lanes and suddenly I was so much past the taxi – I could no longer see the taxi that was ahead of it even!
Let me tell you, no one was happier in that traffic jam than me in those minutes. I was on the right track, things were going smoothly, life had never been better. Sure it was 3am and I was a bit tired, and being stuck in a traffic jam for forty minutes is no cup of tea. But… I was winning!
Then suddenly things changed again. The adversary’s lane started moving faster. I could still switch lanes, or I could stay. I was faced again with the same choice, only from a position of power.
I was in anguish. What was I supposed to do? Things were going so well, and now it was slipping out of my control. If I made the wrong choice, I would go from a universe in which I’m gliding along happily at 5 kilometers per hour with not a care in the world, to one in which I’m plodding at 4, tired, cold, fed up and defeated.
If only I could freeze time and have things not change, everything would be perfect.
The same thing happened to a friend of mine. He had talked on the phone with a girl from an online dating site, and had a really fun and long conversation, at the end of which they had decided to meet. Since then they had talked again and sent each other several text messages. My friend really liked this girl and he was really excited. But, he told me, he was very scared. He didn’t want her to turn out to be someone he doesn’t get along with. He so liked the current situation – where there was a great girl he was about to meet – excitement, full of potential. He didn’t want the reality to collapse, because he knew there was a very real risk that during the date he would find out they actually didn’t get along that well for some reason, and that would be that, he would go back to his difficult job and his regular life and be alone again.
It’s funny how we are so worried about things becoming worse, when we really have no control over it most of the time. Life is a rollercoaster – things will get better and worse and better and worse and better and worse again and again and again. You can’t continually climb up – everything that goes up must come down. And then go up. And come down. I just hope that next time when I’m on top and the other lane starts moving faster, I’ll make my rational decision (to stay in the lane or switch – probably stay – I’m lazy), accept that it might be the wrong one and move on with my life.