For many, “commute” is a four-letter word. The daily drive to and from work is a torturous ritual that taxes patience and frays nerves.
Call me crazy, but I am increasingly considering my commute a sort of gift.
First off, I’m lucky in that my commute is only half an hour. (I should specify that that is only true if I leave the house by 7:06; if I leave at 7:20, I’m toast. Such is the reality of traffic here in the SF Bay Area). And I’m lucky that the road I take is — usually — one that keeps moving, without the stop-and-go traffic that makes drivers gnash their teeth.
My commute is also particularly pretty, on a road that takes me through gentle sloping hills. It’s especially lovely this time of year, when the hills are bright green from the rain. (In summer and fall, they’re ochre — pretty in its own way, but not as captiviating.)
There are cows grazing, and occasionally horses doing the same. Every now and then I see deer, usually in a small group. At times I see a long thin blindingly white heron standing on the slopes absurdly near the road, or I catch a glimpse of a hawk sitting on a low fence, managing to look both hunched and regal at the same time.
There are mornings where I find myself driving into a sunrise that is almost too glorious to be true. Some mornings, the road is so socked in with fog that a road I know by heart suddenly becomes unknown, unfamiliar; I have to pay close attention to the signs that emerge out of the mist so I don’t miss my exit. There are also mornings where the freeway itself is clear but mist moves, wraithlike and mysterious, along the wooded hills in the distance.
It is a good thing to start one’s workday with a shot of natural beauty. It’s like a caffeine boost for the soul.
And I’ve found that the half-hour in the car by myself is a necessary transition for me. I’m an introvert who lives the life of an extrovert; I am a mom and a teacher, and both of these jobs demand a lot from me. They require near-constant social interaction, relentless service and a focus on meeting others’ needs. I love both roles, don’t get me wrong, but as someone who recharges her batteries through solitude, having that half-hour to myself twice a day is a necessary ritual.
I used to listen to the news in the car. I rarely do now, as I’ve found it just increases my stress level before the day has even started. Instead, I listen to my own music or to the local classical radio station, which has beautiful music and a morning DJ with one of the most calming voices I’ve ever had the good fortune to hear.
And I let my thoughts go. They lead me in places that are sometimes predictable and sometimes surprising, and I find myself with new ideas for writing or lesson plans or how to address a problem on my mind. Sometimes I consciously pray. Sometimes I just gather impressions from what I see around me, letting the green hills and oak trees and cows and morning fog sink into my memory, from which — in the way of the writing life — they may emerge again in future.
And I am, in those moments, ever-so-grateful that in my overfull and very social life, I am guaranteed two daily episodes of contemplation and silence, two daily chances to be alone with God and my thoughts. I always wish for more, but what I have already is a gift.
Maybe that’s the secret to contentment: Looking at our lives and recognizing that God is already giving us what we need, even if it’s disguised as the morning commute.