Life came to a standstill for four hours last week when an accident closed the highway I was on, but not too many of my fellow travellers seemed to mind.
That surprised me; then it made me feel quite optimistic; then, when I’d thought about it for a little while, I got a bit depressed. I’ll try to explain.
First of all, when the M6 motorway that runs through the northern limits of Birmingham, England grinded to a halt at 3:30pm and my fellow travellers discovered from their car radios or phones that we wouldn’t be moving again until after dark, I expected them to react badly and feel sorry for themselves. I mean, people over here live busy lives and always seem to have something that has to be done right now or have some place that they think they have to be other than where they are.
When I got out of my car and started wandering up and down the line of stationary vehicles, however, the most common response to the situation I encountered was one of acceptance, and many of the stranded travellers even seemed happy to be in a situation where there was nothing productive to do.
I haven’t seen anything like that since the last time I tried to buy a stamp in the Francistown Post Office.
Anyway, the general good humour and the realisation on the part of many that things could have been worse, as in they could have been part of the multi-vehicle smash-up that caused the road closure, made me feel like things really aren’t so bad in the modern world. People are aware of their good fortune, they don’t just think about themselves all the time and they are able to slow down and just do nothing… and still be in a relatively good mood… when they are forced to do so by external events.
Yeah, that’s the way it was out there on the M6, and the more time I spent wandering around the make-shift car-park the better I felt. Unfortunately, that rosy, optimistic feeling hasn’t hung around long enough for me to write a totally positive column. No, after enjoying my original take for a few days my mind narrowed in on the, “when they are forced to,” bit of what I said in the last paragraph and I’m afraid that got me a bit down.
The more I thought about it the more I suspected that what I had interpreted as acceptance on the part of many of the motorists was in fact relief. Many of them weren’t just willing to sit it out for four hours, they were happy – in some cases maybe even enthusiastic – to have the opportunity to do nothing.
Now I think it is a good thing for us to spend time with ourselves and just do nothing once in a while, or even on a regular basis, so I still see a very positive side to the reactions I observed. My problem, however, is that I suspect many of the relieved people I met that day only stop doing things when they are forced to by circumstance instead of by choice.
So I guess what I’m driving at here is that I’d like to see people take more control over their own lives.