Driving home from our vacation, my husband and I were stalled in a huge traffic jam on a major interstate highway. Within a few minutes, two ambulances and a fire truck whizzed by. Eventually, the emergency vehicles left, but we were not allowed to pass the wreck. When I mentioned to my husband that I wished we had driven out of the city a few minutes earlier, he replied, “If we had, we might have been involved in the accident.”
My husband and I waited calmly, praying that those in the overturned vehicles were not seriously injured. We turned on some beautiful music and turned off the car engine. After about an hour, a police officer drove by and said that because hazardous material was spilled, we would need to make a u-turn and exit the city through a different route. I asked him if the people involved in the accident were going to be okay, and he assured me that no one had been seriously injured. I offered a silent prayer of thanks.
After several cars left the freeway and reentered it on the opposite side, we had the chance to do the same. To make the u-turn, we had to drive off a steep embankment, travel across a dusty field, and then race up another precipitous embankment. As we drove onto the freeway, people in a car that was hundreds of feet behind us—seeing that we were apparently entered the freeway illegally—honked at us. Those in the vehicle sneered and shook their heads in disgust as they drove past us. I wondered how often we tend to misjudge a situation because we don’t know all of the extenuating circumstances.
As we drove along, we saw miles of vehicles that were stalled because of the wreck. I offered a silent prayer for anyone who might be missing an important appointment because of the accident. Driving through a part of the city that we had never seen, my husband and I noticed the scenery that we would have missed if we had not been required to take the detour. After another half-hour or so, we left the city in the alternate route that the police officer had recommended to us and were on our way home.
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically.
"Maybe," the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed.
"Maybe," replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
"Maybe,"answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "Maybe," said the farmer.
When we live mindfully, we become less stressed by unexpected events. We can enjoy the present moment, even when it brings us unexpected disappointment. We recognize that whatever life brings us, this too, will pass. Nothing in life remains constant. Friends move. Family members die. We, too, grow older and will eventually pass away.
Living mindfully allows us to experience serenity amid the stresses of life. It can calm our nerves, lessen our tendency to misjudge others, and help us find joy in the journey. It allows us to feel God’s infinite love for us and to find peace amid sorrow.
© Carol Brown