Retreat on wheels: Why I need my commute

My fellow commuter (note coffee stains)

My fellow commuter (and source of coffee splashes)

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.

Commutesky

Commute sky

 

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.

5 responses to “Retreat on wheels: Why I need my commute

  1. Linda Larish

    Beautiful thoughts on solitude and commutes. I wish I’d had your peace of mind when I was living in the Bay Area, commuting and hating my commute. Even now, because all roads are basically only two lane in and around the Lake Tahoe area, I can think of your blog when I’m behind a VERY slow driver and on my way somewhere! Thanks for such a great blog!

  2. Thanks, Linda. Glad you enjoyed it. The two-lane roads must be a drag but at least you have glorious Tahoe scenery to make it sweeter!

  3. Ginny, I love your blog and can so identify with your solitary commute experience. I drove almost the same route, although I was heading north from San Jose to Redwood City, when I worked at the San Mateo County Historical Museum. In my “bliss of solitude” I reveled especially at the daffodils popping up along the road early in the year and thought of Wordsworth’s poem and the last line, ….and then my heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodils.” Thank you. Your blog brought back a wonderful memory.
    Aunt Karen

  4. This makes me feel more relaxed just reading it . . . and actually helped me make some shifts in my commute!

    Love!

  5. This was perfect. I drive to work through areas tourists come to visit, but I don’t always remember that. Driving in traffic is certainly a great opportunity to practice patience, love towards others and forgiveness. If only we always remembered to do so ;).