Saturday, July 31, 2010

Observations from Driving

I have an essay that has been churning in my brain for quite some time—thoughts on the relationship between popular media, culture at large, and relational expectations between spouses. I hope to have it up by the end of the weekend.

In the meantime, however, I will content myself with two recent observations from driving.

As I have noted a few times recently, driving often provides an opportunity for reflection that we would not otherwise enjoy. For my part, I spent 50 minutes to an hour in the car every day: more than ample opportunity for reflection, if I will but take advantage of it. Sometimes I do; other times my mind drifts along like dandelion seeds on the breeze.

Two days ago, I was thinking—hard. Not about driving. I found myself reacting to other drivers' behavior at a barely conscious level. At some point, I began observing my own mental processes as I drove. The human brain is a fascinating thing. I could on the one hand be thinking quite serious about my wife, ministry to friends and neighbors, and how to relate to foreign exchange students, and on the other hand be correctly processing and interpreting immense quantities of data regarding other car's relative positions, velocities, and likely future behavior.

I could anticipate, on the basis of small motions of people's heads, slight alterations in their speed, and other factors barely perceptible at a conscious level, what the cars around me were going to do. Remarkably, given th complexities involved, so could every other person driving down the road at 70 miles an hour. Not one of us suddenly guessed another was doing something they weren't, slammed n our breaks, and caused an accident. We all kept driving, largely oblivious to the marvelous dance of neurons going on inside our brains.

It's stunning, really: these small, finite minds are nonetheless capable of processing and correctly interpreting incredible amounts of information without even being consciously focused on those particular data points. Especially with years of experience, we begin to subconsciously recognize and react to cues happening far too quickly and subtly to ever process them consciously, and so we all stay alive as we barrel down the highway in steel and plastic contraptions at speeds certain to harm and likely to kill a human being.

My second observation: I entered the north side of Norman yesterday afternoon, and the overwhelming familiarity of the drive arrested my attention. I make that drive daily—occasionally, even more frequently. It has become routine to the point that I no longer really see the fields and warehouses passing by; I see only home and my wife's arms waiting for me.

It was not always so, of course. I remembered driving into Norman four and a half years earlier—driving into Norman by myself for the first time, at the beginning of the second semester of my freshman year of college. It was a strange and almost surreal experience. I had left my home behind in Colorado, and was driving home to Walker Tower in Norman. Somehow, my life had changed, in ways I could not yet define. I only knew my world was different than it had been, could not and would not be the same. I did not know the turns.

Over the years that followed, that feeling intensified, even as I made that drive more and more frequently. Trips to Oklahoma City became less rare, and I had soon driven home along I-35 more times than I had ever driven on I-25 in Colorado. My home was Adams Tower, then Walker again for another two years. My friendships solidified, even as they changed. My world shifted on its axis in more ways than one.

The changes did not slow on graduation or marriage. Colorado is no longer home, however much I love it. A comfortable little apartment in Norman where my wife waits eagerly for me is home. I-35 is no longer a strange sight, the turns unfamiliar, because I drive it twice a day. The world has changed again, and will change again until it changes once for all.

All that from a drive home.

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