Yesterday, Christmas afternoon, I left Los Altos at one o’clock to drive north to Santa Rosa which normally takes about 2 1/2 hours. I was sure the traffic would be light because people would be with their families. They’d be sitting in front of the fireplace, reading their new books, putting together a new puzzle, figuring out how to insert batteries into new toys. I would arrive well before dark.
Lesson: never assume anything. Nineteenth Avenue was fine, but the minute I entered Golden Gate Park, traffic slowed to a crawl. We inched along all the way out Park Presidio, over the bridge, through the tunnel, and up to the Sausalito exit. When the road cleared, everyone drove at least 70 mph. I arrived back at Friends House in Santa Rosa at dusk. The trip had taken four hours.
Second lesson: be grateful. I believe that an attitude of gratitude begets optimism and I have read that such a mind-set lowers blood pressure and the risk of heart attack. I was grateful that I was safe, that I have a car that, although no longer new, still is reliable. I hadn’t had the problem such as the man, creeping along in the next lane. He lowered his window and with desperation in his voice, called out, “Could I please cut in front of you? I’ve been stuck in this mess for two hours and I really have to go to the bathroom!”
During those hours en route, I sang along with endless versions of Christmas songs and remembered dozens of moments with Family. At a Christmas Eve luncheon in San Francisco, granddaughter Katie had asked what we would like more of and of what would we like less. Of the 14 present, four said they’d like more simplicity and fewer material possessions. “Less stuff.” Others nodded and said, “Me, too.” One family of five told of giving and receiving Experiences: Jenny gave her sisters an evening of printing patterns onto scarves. John took a musical daughter to a jazz club. The mother and a daughter made decorated Christmas cookies and gave them away. Others gave simple gifts and upped their charitable contributions. One granddaughter spoke of the value of compassionate listening, of giving her attention, her time. I recalled hearing that a person with a compassionate heart develops an improved attention span; that caring and decreasing conflicts lead to becoming in tune with one’s inner self.
While stuck in traffic, I thought about the relationship between Faith and Fear. I think they are inversely proportional to each other. More faith leads to less anxiety. Less anxiety lessens depression and leads to better sleep.
Now that I mull over these thoughts, I think that the clogged traffic was better than frankincense and myrrh: it gave time in which to appreciate the many gifts of this Christmas.