I once made the mistake of trying to drive from my office at AOL to a Washington Capitals game via the George Washington Parkway just as the evening rush hour way getting under way. Even on its worst day, the George Washington Parkway is among the most beutiful urban commuter highways in America, running through a national park parallel to the Potomac River directly across from Georgetown. And maybe this was its worst day, because traffic simply would not move. In both directions, cars were parked bumper-to-bumper.
As we eased slowly down the ramp onto the Parkway, in front of me, remarkably, was the most beautiful cascading sunset I'd seen in years and years. Orange and pink and red, the sky was completely lit up. I called Lynn at home and said, "I'm on the way to the game. By chance, are you near a window?"
Lynn said she was.
"You should go look at the sunset. It's spectacular. It reminds me of the time we were in Hawaii together."
Lynn knew exactly what I was talking about: a walk on the beach one evening as the sun melted into the Pacific in a really dramatic fashion. We'd been really happy together on what I recalled was a pretty glorious day, and the capper was a sunset that lingered in memory, an experience that created happiness far deeper than any new possession or simple accomplishment might have done.
Just now the traffic moved a little bit, and I looked at the guy in the car next to me, and he was screaming at someone on the phone while simultaneously blaring his horn. What he thought he was accomplishing by blaring his horn, I couldn't really tell; traffic was backed up for the next quarter mile at least.
But it was weird. We were in the same physical space, but we may as well have been in different solar systems. I could see the sun as it set, and apparently he couldn't.
I was so grateful to see this beautiful sky, and to be on the phone with my wife with both of us transported back to this wonderful moment in our lives. And one car away from me is a guy who's screaming on the phone and beeping his horn.
At that moment, I stopped. I paused the music on my iPod, wrapped up the headphones, and placed them in my shirt pocket. I looked around for a second or two. All I heard was the ambient noise of the metro train, the ringtone from a man's phone, and a lady chewing her gum a little too ferociously. But in that moment I felt peace. I removed myself from the little internalized world I had created for myself 5 days a week and was listening to the world around me.
I am not a horn honker. In fact, I never have really understood honking unless you're about to crash. However, when I took a split-second introspective look at my current situation, I really was the horn honker. I had internalized my situation. Like the man in the car, I didn't want anything to get between me and my destination. For him, it was getting through traffic. For me, it was reading my book in peace. In the process, both of us were probably missing the majestic subtleties of life.
Right there, I made a decision. I will no longer be an iPodder. Yes, I know that's not a word. I just created it. What exactly is an iPodder? They're those people who sit at their office desks listening to music and tuning out those around them. They're those people who crank it up on the metro. They're those people who listen to it while walking home. I am all three of those things. But no longer. I want to be in the same position Ted Leonsis was in.
I want to externalize my life and see those subtleties that life presents yet many of us miss. This won't happen simply by turning off my iPod. But it can happen if I take that first step to stop, listen, and ponder all of those moments in my life that breeze past me while I'm stuck in the rush hour of life.