A mediation student of mine told me this story some time ago:
She was in bumper to bumper traffic during rush hour in Winooski, VT. Now, as someone who used to live in the Burlington area, it’s hard for me to imagine bumper to bumper traffic lasting longer than one minute, but perhaps an accident had slowed things to a crawl.
There were two lanes heading in my student’s direction. The left lane was completely stopped and had been for several minutes. My student was in the right lane, which became an entrance ramp onto the interstate. The vehicle in front of her was the only thing between my student, all the cars behind her, and the interstate.
That car was stopped, with its left directional blinking. It had an out-of-state plate. All the cars who wanted to get on the interstate were stopped behind her. Nothing moved. Horns started to blare. As seconds passed, more horns joined in. Nothing moved.
My student finally got out of her car. She said she intended to tell the woman to get moving. But something happened on her way there. She said her mediation training sort of kicked in, that things went into slow motion for a split second and her brain said, Don’t yell at that poor woman.
So she didn’t.
Instead, she tapped on the window and when the woman rolled it down, my student said, Quick—what can I do to help?
The woman looked panicked and frozen. I don’t want to get onto the interstate. In this traffic I’ll just get more lost. I need to get in that other lane!
My student said, Get on the interstate. I’ll pass you and lead you off the next exit and back to here.
The woman thanked her profusely. Everything went smoothly from there.
Ten minutes of my student’s time left her with a story to tell, a sense of service to another, and personal gratification that she’d avoided acting in anger when a little compassion served far better.
This article was originally published in my regular column for The Monadnock Ledger.