I put the key in the ignition, start the car, and settle myself into the driver's seat. I have just dropped off my son and daughter at preschool and am relishing the calming whir of the motor and the solitude of the car's interior. I mentally skim through the morning's events: The children seem well and happy, no major tiffs to worry about. I can focus on the article I plan to write in my two hours of free time. As I pass through several intersections, I outline the major ideas and work on the opening sentence.
Another intersection. The light is red. I ease to a stop and, as I do, glance to the left. A well-dressed gentlemen in a navy suit, and in an equally well-kempt navy sedan, is next to mine. But he isn't enjoying a reverie like mine; he is clutching a car phone in his left hand, gripping the wheel with his right, and barely looking at the passing cars as his head bobs up and down in apparent disagreement with the person on the other end of the line.
The light changes, and our cars head in opposite directions. As he spins out of sight, I watch him juggle the phone and reach for a paper in his briefcase while he precariously maneuvers the wheel.
I try to focus on my article, but my thoughts have whirled away with the gentleman in the distant car. I conjure up a vision of his morning: Wake up early to a blaring radio alarm; shower and dress while catching fragments of news; nod at the children and the wife; then tear out to his mobile office to begin his 30-minute commute to work.
En route, he calls his secretary to arrange the day. After scribbling a series of notes on the pad pressed against the steering wheel, he finally reaches his exit and, with a few more turns, screeches into his parking space, grabs his briefcase and struggles with the elevator doors as he balances a cup and a croissant. He switches off the mobile line. Never missing a beat.
Or missing every beat? Sometimes, I resent my downtime, when I engage in routine chores: cleaning, folding laundry, making dinner, driving children around, exercising. I yearn for a voice-activated computer in my car or attached to my waist as I walk. Efficient writing on the go.
But aren't these mundane chores, in a way, a well of freedom? Precious spare moments to fuel creativity and inspire thoughtfulness. Pushing the vacuum cleaner, driving the car, swimming laps, or mixing a meatloaf for dinner all quiet the body. They dispel excess energy and let the mind wander.
Perhaps this is why so many of us are drawn to the solitude of the country. In a less urban area there is no frenetic rush of cars, no people and technology to enervate our bodies. Every summer, our family spends five weeks at our ranch in Wyoming. We have no phone, no nearby town, no neighbors closer than a mile on either side. I feel strangled when I arrive. Cut off. But by the time we leave, I have begun to notice the world again -- the blades of grass, the billowing clouds, the calming influence of a leisurely breakfast with my family.
Even the animals sense the difference in me. One evening at dinner, I looked up from my plate into the eyes of a deer enjoying his evening snack outside. He'd accepted our solitude as part of his.