Sep 28, 2011

Not Worth It

I'm not sure when the freeways of this country turned into Mad Max all day, every day.  It's been a gradual sort of thing.  I would wager that the decline in civility closely tracks the increase in both the average video game hours played per US citizen and the number of reality TV shows being aired.  We've lost our ability to empathize with one another.  The cars around us aren't filled with other human beings living the same sorts of lives we do.  They are competitors, trying to get an edge over me, take advantage of me, God forbid - get one or two cars ahead of me.   People cut you off, don't use their blinkers, won't let you in when you use your blinker.  Everybody is out for themselves, screw the next guy.  

I am just as guilty as the next person too.  I recently had a whole line of cars refuse to let me into their lane even though I was approaching a construction barricade with nowhere else to go.  I hadn't tried to zip ahead of anybody.  I tried to get over as soon as I saw the merge sign.  I didn't do anything to warrant this animosity.  Clearly the only motivation was not wanting another person in front of them.  I don't know where they thought I was going to go. I had to merge.  I finally muscled my way in.  

I could have left it there, ignored the lane blockers.  Instead, in keeping with Mad Max rules, I did my best to give back as good as I got.  I let everybody who had been behind me in the merging lane go in front of me.  The lane blockers had to sit and watch as car after car pulled in front of them.   They were furious.  I cackled madly at them.  It felt like a victory.  I had a car full of people.  Looking back on it, not one of my better moments, quite the maniacal spectacle to behold.

Every day I drive the same freeway to and from work.  M14 between Plymouth and Ann Arbor.  The same drama plays out every day.  Left lane is for faster traffic and right lane is for slower traffic.  The left lane generally moves along at an acceptable pace.  Occasionally somebody goes too slowly and you pass when you can.   Every single day one or more people come speeding up from the right lane, even though they clearly see that the right lane is blocked and at some point they will have to cut somebody off to get back into the left lane.  I feel my blood pressure rising.  I start thinking "Oh no you don't".  Then I realize I've got a death grip in the steering wheel and am tailgating to keep people from getting into the left lane.  

Stop.  Take a deep breath.  Think about this for a minute.  It's not going to kill me to let them in.  I'm not actually teaching them any lessons.  They'll be back the next day doing it all over again.  I back off and let them go in front of me.  

When I am nice and considerate you should see how smug and satisfied I am with myself.  When I take pity on some poor soul and wave them into the spot in front of me.  I act as if I've just performed some great humanitarian act.  See how considerate I am?  I'm not like the rest of these barbarians.  I get so mad when people don't acknowledge my courtesy.  A wave?  I don't get a wave?   This small act of benevolence is way out proportion with the huge pat on the back I give myself.  Shouldn't this be the standard?  Some patience, consideration and  a little bit of "live and let live" would go a long way towards making everybody a little less stressed out all the freaking time.

The more I think about this the more parallels I see to the current political landscape.  No ground will be given so everything must be seized. 

Sep 11, 2011

Never the Same

Of course I remember where I was on September 11, 2001.

I had just finished having breakfast with somebody we were thinking about re-hiring at work.  He was a friend too. It was a nice breakfast.  It was a beautiful fall day.  I got to the office, sat down at my desk and immediately got a phone call from my husband.  He said "They're crashing planes into the World Trade Center."  I didn't believe him.  Then I saw all the commotion out in the office.  People on the phone, people talking in a very animated way.  I stepped outside my office door.  Everybody else was saying the same thing.

I'm sure most of you were glued to your TVs throughout the day, like I was.  I was horrified, shocked and yet somehow it seemed unreal.  This couldn't really be happening.  Then rumors started about other planes not accounted for, other targets.  We let everybody go home.  Nobody knew how widespread it was or when it would stop.

I thought about how less than a year before I had been in New York for an annual meeting with the HR people from our affiliates around the country.  Our meeting had been in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, the 90 something floor.  I don't remember exactly.  It was hosted by our insurance broker, Marsh McLennan.     They were very nice offices and the view from that high up was impressive.  I remember the towers swaying slightly and I remember a helicopter flying by below us.  While I was in that meeting my husband and kids, who had come with me on the trip, were touring the top of the South Tower of the WTC and the plaza below.

Eleven months later the eight floors of the North Tower that Marsh occupied took a direct hit from AA Flight 11, the first plane to hit.  Nobody at work that day for Marsh McLennan at the WTC survived the attack.  Two hundred ninety five people gone.  I remember talking to our broker a few months after the attack.  His office was in mid-town, not the towers.  He was so profoundly sad, having attended funeral after funeral for his lost co-workers.  I couldn't help thinking about how it could have been us there had the attack been 11 months earlier. I was so thankful my family was safe.

The devastation of 9/11 really hit me when I got a call from my friend.  Her niece had been on United Flight 93.  Her name was Deora Bodley and she was the youngest passenger on the plane that day, only 20 years old.   I had met Deora's mom a few times.  A nice lady.  Very intense.  I met Deora once when she was probably 16 or 17 at my friend's wedding.   She seemed like a very sweet girl.  We didn't say more than hello to each other when we were introduced.  I had no real connection to her.  But I knew how close their family was.  I knew how much my friend's parents loved and cherished each of their grandkids.  I knew how proud they all were of Deora.  The tragedy of 9/11 became their family tragedy.

Today, like every September 11th, I can't help but think about Deora and my friend and her family.  I wonder if it helps that their personal loss is felt to some degree by the entire nation.  Or does it make it harder that their grief will be forever shared with the world? Is the significance of their personal loss diminished by the enormity of it all? It's more than 9/11, it's their family and it will never be the same.  Neither will we.