It was a hot afternoon, even in the mountains. We were en route to our age-of-pandemic vacation: Bicycling (outdoors all day!) from a remote campground (not many campers = further distance apart!), in James, our RV (no hotel lobbies, no public bathrooms). I had meals planned (no restaurants this trip!), and my yoga mat, plenty of snacks and water packed. And, we were remaining within state borders.
Halfway into the six-hour drive, we were following switchbacks through the mountains. We curved around to an uphill and noticed the string of vehicles ahead. We eased up behind a boat on a trailer. A shiny black car stopped behind us, another RV behind them. No one honked.
The cars kept coming, as though someone was stringing an endless supply of beads. With no cell service, none of us knew what was causing the delay. It could’ve been road construction, a rock slide, accident. Engines off, passengers emerged from their vehicles, stretching their legs, some walking dogs over to patches of grass. A few people set up lawn chairs around their Jeep. No one knew how long it would take to clear the road. Still, no honking. No raised voices. I went to the fridge and made a sandwich.
A police car followed by an ambulance passed in the empty lane. I could almost hear the collective sigh, accident, each of us surrendering impatience to the hopes that it was only a fender bender, any irritation to the reality that it could’ve been any one of us. I stepped out of James and stretched a bit on the shoulder.
Despite being in Park, in the shade–with a deck of cards, my yoga mat and a bathroom–it was a long time to sit in one place. By the time the first cars started to edge forward, three hours had passed. I watched the traffic that had queued up in the other direction. It went on for five or six miles – in the sun. No honking, no rage. Car after car, pickup and motorcycle, waiting.
As we eased by the scene, none of us knew what actually happened, cell reception was ten miles away. Certainly not every person in that string of traffic has been in an accident. They can’t all relate directly, but still, there were no objections, no me-firsts. Instead, there was a sense of empathy, or, at the very least, tolerance. It literally made me sit up and notice. People do care, or, at the very least, accept that sometimes, it’s about someone else.
Empathy is key to a happy mind. It’s like the key ingredient.