The Value of Slowing Down and Listening

Those who know me will realize this is from almost 20 years ago, but I read it from time to time, so I am reminded of the lesson I learned back then.

I have been driving on the interstate highways too much lately, figuratively and realistically. I reached that conclusion today while driving on an isolated backstretch of a two-lane road that is not even a secondary road. It is only one step up from a dirt road.

I started my drive home on a four-lane road that intersected with Interstate 59 south of Fort Payne, Alabama. Then I got on the interstate and headed home in a big hurry—too much of a hurry. I went only as far as the next exit before I realized that I wanted off, and I wanted to do some relaxed driving. So, I left the interstate highway, took a turn towards Sand Mountain, and followed that road up the side of the mountain. At the top, there was a ridge road, headed northeast. I am sure it has a name or number, but it doesn’t matter; it was Podunk’s Mainstreet.

Almost every vehicle I met was driven by guys. Most of them made some sort of movement with their hands, and all of them made brief eye contact. I thought perhaps they were hinting to me that there was a speed trap ahead, but since I wasn’t even doing the speed limit, I wasn’t worried. I was appreciative of their concern, but thanks, guys, it doesn’t apply to me!

Then it hit me; they weren’t worried about my speed either; they were just waving! Yes, waving. People still do that. I should have known. After all, I used to do that too. What happened to me that I not only didn’t wave at those I met, but I didn’t even recognize their friendly gesture for what it was?

Several years ago, my wife and I were off for a few days together, and we spent two of those days in a sort of aimless drive through the surrounding counties. The narrower and more crooked the road, the more likely that was our chosen path. It was springtime in Tennessee, and it was great to be out in the middle of it all. Our only conflict was that I wanted the windows down so I could hear the meadowlarks, and she wanted the windows up with the air-conditioning on so she didn’t have to sniff the pollen. To me, hearing a meadowlark is worth an entire snoot full of pollen. She can’t think of anything about pollen that is even worth saying out loud. Other than that, a good time was had by all.

During our meandering, when we met someone, I waved. They waved back. I didn’t know them, nor did they know me. It may be that we wouldn’t even have wanted to get to know some of the folks we met, but when I waved, so did they. Most of the time, we both waved at the same time. Sometimes, they would wave first. Some just lifted a finger or two from the steering wheel, and kind of wiggled their hand from side to side. Some actually raised their entire arm off the back of the seat and waved their whole hand! Some just nodded enough to let me know they were aware of my greeting. Very few ignored me.

Towards the middle of our second day of driving around, my wife asked rather sharply, “Why are you waving at these people?”

“Cause they wave back!” I said.

“Do you know any of them?” she asked.

“Don’t have to,” I replied.

That was the last time she ever touched that topic.

So. Lately, my job has been increasingly intense, hurried, threatening, and vicious. I have almost ceased to take the long way home, and the speed and ethic of the job and the interstate have taken over my mindset too much. But from now on, it is the long way home for me, and hopefully I will not come home so ready to kick the cat, snap at my son, or grumble at my wife. If I am caught up in something to the point that I don’t even recognize a friendly gesture from my fellow man, I am also likely to miss something even more important; something that is usually contained in a still, peaceful voice, a voice that does not clamor for attention.

I don’t think I have heard a meadowlark all year. I am sure they have not ceased their singing. I just need to listen. While I am listening for the meadowlarks along the way, I’ll be sure to wave.

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Tom Allen recently retired from a short career as a…
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