First Unitarian Church of Worcester

Sermons, Memos and other writings from the newsletter and worship services of the First Unitarian Church of Worcester. The First Unitarian Church is located at 90 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01608. Our phone is 508-757-2708 and our webpage is A audio CD is produced for almost every one of our regular services. Call our office or send a note to the office at our website to request that one be shipped to you.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Driving by Tom Schade

I love to drive. I love getting on the open road, preferably a four-lane superhighway and settling in to a long drive. I love watching the sky and the hills and the trees and the other cars drift by in what seems like slow-motion because you are going so fast. I love listening to music while I drive, and I love listening to the silence and to the hum of the highway.

My parents told me that when I was young, just two or three, I would stand behind my father’s shoulder as he drove down night-lit roads. And even now, if I cannot sleep, I close my eyes and imagine myself a small boy laying on the backseat of a moving car and drift off to the steady sounds of the turning tires. I love to drive.

My love for driving is one reason why I enjoy having a longer commute than many people.

I have often said that one reason why I like to drive is that it gives me time to think. And yet, I often cannot remember anything that I have thought about when I get to wherever I have been going. So what have I been doing?

Let me back up here to say that being able to think about what you would like to think about is pretty important. And it is almost impossible. If you are like me, you think about what you happen to think about; I am not in control of my thoughts. My thoughts just seem to happen.

I would be a much better person if I could direct my thoughts to the subjects that I want to think about. Just imagine being able to call up the concentration that would allow ten to fifteen minutes of focused thought about a difficult problem. It would be wonderful, but I can’t think more than 15 consecutive seconds about a single problem. With thirty minutes of undistracted thinking time, I am confident that I could work out the issues in the Middle East and win a Nobel Peace Prize for the mantle. But no, I start to think about the Middle East and off my mind wanders into all sorts of non-productive areas. Like speculating on the differences between the Middle East, the Middle West, the Middle Kingdom and Middle Earth. Which leads to a perennial subject of my deepest thinking, which is how did Middlesex County gets its name? There is no Nobel Prize down that mental pathway, I assure you.

But I digress, which is my exact point.

I would also like to be able to not think some of thoughts I do think. To be able to listen to your story, without comparing it to mine. To hear you express your grief at the death of your mother, without being overwhelmed by my memories of my own. To be able to meet people who are different than me without stereotypes and preconceptions rising up like a veil to obscure my view. To be able to think of now without being distracted by then or when; to be able to think of here without thinking of there or where, this and not that or what, or but.

When I am driving I should be thinking about driving, about what is going on right now, right here. I should be observing all that is going on around me, and not obsessing on any of it. Eyes sweeping ahead, to what is near, and what is far, and then checking what is going on behind me. Eyes always in motion, never coming to rest, always watching, never staring. As I drive, when I find my mind wandering off, to think about the Middle East or Middlesex County, or how many Chevy Malibus they seem to be selling this year, or whether the forests seem thicker and greener this rainy summer, or how the Cosmic DJ in the Ipod knew exactly the song I needed to hear next, I have to bring my mind back to mindfulness of the conditions of the road, and the position of the other cars, and their relative speed and what is going on all around me. After all, it is a matter of life and death, how well we pay attention to our driving.

I used to say that I loved to drive because it gave me time to think, but now, I wonder about that. Perhaps I love to drive because it asks me to think in a different way, one that calls me back to reality again and again.


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