When Now Is Never Enough

When Now Is Never Enough

Living in Distraction

We made eye contact, and I powered down the passenger side window. “I’m glad you’re OK!”

The woman took a deep breath as she reached for her car door. “I’m pretty quick on my feet but had glanced down at my phone. That was close.”

As the stranger slowly drove away, I looked over to Debbie, in the driver’s seat beside me. “It’s kind of the same thing, isn’t it? No one’s really paying attention to the moment they’re in.”

We’d just witnessed an “almost” accident as a harried driver did a rapid reverse from the parking space beside us, barely missing a woman walking back to her car. Runaway shopping carts used to be the be the biggest risk in grocery store lots. Now it’s two tons of accelerating steel guided by a distracted driver who, mentally, may already be ten miles down the road.

Ironically, Debbie and I had just paid last respects to my own mangled vehicle. Its jumbled contents, left behind during my recent squad ride to a nearby trauma unit, now filled the back of her SUV. Most likely, the young woman who turned into me had simply reacted to sudden motion from the driver ahead of her. His quick acceleration into a left turn had prompted her to do the same, without noticing the lack of a green arrow on the traffic light or me, steadily advancing through the intersection toward her.

As we slo-mo’d toward impact last Sunday—Fate irrevocably in motion—there was sudden recognition that life might end or be forever changed. But in the next moment, as the airbag smoked and my hands and face burned from the chemical release, I could see, hear, feel, and think. I could even step out onto the busy highway and look toward the car, the sobbing woman, and her panicked dog.

“I’m so sorry,” she mouthed, "Are you OK?" I nodded, pointed at her, and she nodded back. We’d all been lucky: she, me, her dog in the back seat, and that third driver who'd squealed on and away.

In the hospital that night, as they monitored the bleeding around my heart, I was simply grateful. That I was basically intact. That I hadn’t been an unwitting weapon of death for an innocent passenger. But as Debbie and I sat in that parking lot two days later, I felt frustration, fear, and a little anger. I remembered the phone-scrolling woman I’d driven alongside a couple of weeks earlier whom I couldn’t, despite my dozen or so increasingly horrified glances, catch even once looking at the road ahead of her.

I’m not one for drama. In fact, my oldest son ribbed me about my texted messages from the emergency room. “Do you have plans tonight? I might need a ride later.” But distraction is a far too common theme for our species these days. I’ve written extensively about its detrimental impact on interpersonal connection, and its terrible ties to the loneliness that afflicts too many amongst us. And it strikes me as so very sad that many of us live in a state of disengagement, always looking for “better”—bored with the present moment before it’s even begun. We have trouble living in real time and send our brains forward like an advance team, leaving our bodies to go through the motions. And by the time we physically reach the goal, our minds have already moved on to somewhere else in the future or past, or to a smartphone distraction, because we already burned up enjoyment with distracted anticipation. Now is never quite exciting enough.

One of the big selling points of self-driving cars is their potential to compensate for human error. But while faulty perceptions and reactions happen to us all, it seems the biggest improvement might be a simple adjustment to gratitude—for each of us to grow greater appreciation and awareness of the moment we’re in—and the people we're with—right now. In this moment.

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