Beware of live traffic
In the 40+ years we have lived in Wokingham, there have been at least five new housing developments on our side of town. Most of the time, it seems, there are ‘cones’ and new traffic signs and ‘men at work’. Recently, there has been a new road sign at the junction between the main road and the slightly hidden side turning which I take to go to the gym. The sign says, ‘Beware live traffic’.
It’s not a sign I’ve seen very often but it has been making me think…so I took a picture of it! As I wandered around looking for the best angle, a man a high viz jacket came over to talk to me. It turned out that he was the manager responsible for road signs and safety in the area. He said, ‘I put that sign there because people like you are walking along or driving out of the side road and not really expecting live traffic to come from the direction where it’s coming while we do the roadworks. People aren’t expecting live traffic just here!’
How often I am like that manager…putting up signs to avoid unexpected danger. ‘Prepare for the worst but hope for the best’ is a useful lifetime motto of mine. My mother-in-law had another: ‘If you worry about something it never happens – it’s always what you don’t expect that does!’
There’s no doubt that a successful life involves managing expectations – expectations of myself, expectations of other people, expectations of what is going to happen or not. I believe profoundly that managing our responses to expectations, our own and those of other people is a vital skill for successful living. All the same if something suddenly comes at me from an unexpected quarter, I don’t naturally welcome it – especially as I get older. So much of my life is still devoted to avoiding the unexpected, to being ‘in control’. Experience tells me, it’s impossible. But I still try!
Our son, who often manages conflict for a living, told me once: ‘The only place I really have control is in the present moment’. I know that applies to more than his work! But if something surprising happens, something over which I have little or no control, it’s natural and sometimes even desirable to struggle to regain control.
But in family life and in the last fifteen years as a mother-in-law and a grandmother, I have begun to learn to value those times of lost control. I have learned the truth of C Day Lewis' words: ‘Love is proved in the letting go’. I come increasingly to believe that some of my best growth as a person comes from times of surprise or disorientation. Times when, for whatever reason I don’t know what is going to happen next or what to do next. Some of those times someone else is in control. Others times nobody seems to be in control! On those occasions, maybe because I’m forced to, or maybe when, kicking and screaming, I choose to, I am learning to relax my grip and let go of my agenda. When I try to stand back and let something else emerge, if often does – sometimes immediately but not always – that’s often where faith comes in.
I am just beginning to understand that if there isn’t a letting go on my part, it’s difficult to see how I can learn, or to put it in spiritual terms, how God can speak. When I trust that there really is a Power greater than me at work in the world, things can change. I can change. Others too. These can be 'growth spurts' - even at my age! Those are the times when ‘live traffic’ becomes not a danger but the birth of something new and wonderful.