Full Stop — What a Traffic Ticket Taught Me About Being at Rest

A while back I got a ticket in the mail for failing to stop at a red light. This New England girl had been caught on camera doing a “California rolling stop.” I was mortified, and upset at the steep fine. My husband was remarkably cool. Apparently he had noticed my tendency to roll through intersections and had been worried about it. “I’m just glad nobody got hurt,” he said.  That made me feel even worse. You’d think I would learn my lesson, but I continued to tap-and-roll through intersections more often than not. So this week I recruited my children to help me “brake” my habit. They were delighted at the invitation to correct my behavior, ready to catch me being bad. But I’ve been good, and to my surprise, it feels good to stop. This second or two of stillness at the intersection gives me a moment to look around, breathe, and be at rest, before driving on.

Much of my family’s life is in constant forward motion, a run-on sentence with nary a comma, much less a period to complete the thought.  We go from activity to activity, we multi-task, we have our forks poised to shovel in the next bite before we have chewed and swallowed what’s in our mouths. We are always leaning forward, anticipating what’s next and not experiencing what is. But it is in the space in between activities that we get a chance to appreciate, reflect, and make meaning of our experience. This pause helps us notice that we are at a crossroads and can choose which way to proceed. If we fail to come to a full stop we pay a penalty much bigger than my traffic ticket: we will miss not only a stop sign, or a pedestrian in the crosswalk, we miss the awareness of being alive.

Today the universe gave me an opportunity to practice stopping. Rushing through Terminal 2 at SFO I saw the sign for the Yoga Room. “Only in San Francisco!” I laughed as I hustled past on the way to my gate.  But then I turned around, walked in, and was bathed in bluish light and quiet. It was lovely, and they even had mats and a roller! My fifteen minute pause was deeply restorative. So here’s to honoring the literal and metaphorical signs in our lives and work that remind us to stop. As I tell my kids at intersections: stop, look, and listen.