Of Traffic and Novels

 

I remember getting to visit this one particular library a long time ago when I was still a little kid living in Costa Rica. I thought it was cool because it was an American library, which meant I got to read all the books in English. I suppose it was “official,” as far as libraries go, but looking back now, I realise it was definitely just a person’s house stacked with extra shelves in the living room and hallways all packed with his or her collection of books.

But hey, it worked for me.

I also remember once noticing a piece of paper taped to one side of the shelves, with a funny little story on it. To the extent of my memory, it went went something along the lines of,

As Joe sat for over an hour in his car stuck in traffic, he thought to himself, ‘Why does this only ever happen to me?!’

I thought it was pretty clever at the time. I probably even wished I would have come up with it myself.

Yet, that intellectual batter had a certain rich ingredient of truth which I didn’t quite taste until much later on.
Years afterwards, I eventually moved to the States and proceeded to initiate my own independent life, which of course involved all the grownup things like buying a car and driving to work and, yes, occasionally getting stuck in traffic (or always getting stuck in traffic, when it came to my short stay in Baton Rouge.) The usual.
But then the batter finally finished baking in my comprehensive oven and the realisation hit me:

We don’t ever actually get stuck in traffic, do we?

We become traffic.

*Cognitive super nova*

I thought it was a pretty radical revelation.
My natural compulsory tendency was to support the subconscious supposition that everybody else in the world is getting in my way, getting me stuck, making me late for wherever I’m going, whether it’s just somewhere random like work or somewhere actually imperative like Crispy Cremes. Selfish road hogs. Can’t they see I’m the prime focal point and centre of all existence? Impertinent! And don’t even get me started on rush hour. That’s just an entity other people inconsiderately always create, something I need to avoid since, if I’m not working that day, whatever I’m doing is far more important.

As you can see, I tend to think about myself a lot.

Obviously I’m aware there are all sorts of logically mathematical and statistical factors for how and why traffic happens, such as wrecks and agonisingly slow drivers (Ahem. I won’t mention any names of certain people I know;) but for the general occasion it took a considerable degree of deliberate emotional conceding to admit I was part of the mass — part of the problem, as it were. Sure, without me the traffic would probably still be there…in most cases….no comment….but as soon as traffic “happens” and I’m there, I have become traffic, just like everybody else, for everybody else. It’s not just me stuck, but all of us together forming a massive faceless entity comprised of many various individual deliberations and intentions.

Stuck in traffic, becoming traffic… The semantics don’t matter as much as the mindset behind your apperceptive steering wheel. It’s easy to consider yourself a nameless speck in a mass of nameless specks, and it’s even easier to elevate yourself as the perceptive nexus point in that mass of specks; but the truth is that we each hold an infallibly immeasurable degree of inherent significance independent of any relativity to one another.

I think it’s a realisation embodied perfectly in a word from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, by John Koenig.
Sonder.
The realisation that everybody has a story, and he or she is the primary character in that story; and in the same way that the mass of humanity flowing around you is made up of all the background characters in your story, you too might also be a background character in their story.

But there’s a richer harvest to be gathered from this crop than just a sorrowful sentiment.

When being the protagonist of your own story becomes less about elevating yourself (for the sake of self-worth) or comparing your story to another, but more about owning your plot and living it well, valuing your life because it was the one given to you, then it becomes an enjoyable story.

I think its okay if sometimes we feel like we’re not doing a good job managing the plot, though, because our worth doesn’t come from what we can accomplish or how well we do it anyway. We’re inherently valuable already. The things we do and accomplish should be an expressive indication of that, not an effort to validate it. With that perspective fueling our tanks, I think we can ride out more freely, more passionately, with the top down and the music blaring.

The sentiment becomes manageable. We can be okay with being the occasional extra in somebody else’s cast of characters, because there’s nothing to prove; and having overcome that need for external, presumably objective validation, I think it becomes easier to extend that extra amount of consideration towards other people, fully accepting them as the protagonists of their stories, allowing them to be the centre of our attention for a moment.

I realised the other day that glancing at another person’s life in passing is like looking at the cover of an epic novel. A brief interaction with somebody is like flipping through the first couple pages.
So we’re all novels. I guess that makes any traffic jam a library, eh?
Too cheesy? Sorry. I’ll let you pretend I never said that.

P.S.

For the record, I would just like to rub it in all your faces that in the nearly four years I’ve been living in Montana, I’ve experienced actual traffic a maximum of maybe two or three times.
Gotta love those wide open spaces, baby.