I had an epiphany on Monday. I say this with the most secular of meanings, as in I had a ‘sudden realization’. I did not ‘see God’, as other definitions allow. Although I think I came rather close.
I was merging into freeway traffic at the moment of my sudden realization, which, quite simply, was this: “change is hard.”
Seriously, those were the three words that popped into my mind as I edged my car from the collector into the left lane that would take me in a new direction. I did the cursory checks, review and side mirror, a glance over the shoulder. And began to merge.
The horn blast hit me like a wet snowball in the back of the head. I cringed. I think I might have even closed my eyes and slapped my hands against my ears. But that was probably an imaginary reaction since I did manage to keep the car on the road. Wide open eyes and steady hands are necessary for that.
The tan SUV sailed past, it’s driver likely yelling at me. I honestly didn’t see him coming. When I gave my last quick look, he must have been directly in that nasty little blind spot that is the bane of all drivers.
With traffic streaming by both sides of my car, I had no option but to create a new lane for myself, right on top of the dotted white line. Talk about a precarious place to be.
Dotted lines are not meant for lingering. Highway linesmen might just as well paint the words CHANGE NOW in big, white capital letters. When you hit a dotted line, you’re meant to move. You must cross over it as quickly as possible.
As is evident, I crossed the line and lived to make the merge. I shifted lanes. Changed course. Headed in my desired direction. Eventually, my heart settled and my blood pressure dropped to its normal level. I was on my way
For the next 15 minutes, there was just me, my epiphany and hundreds of other drivers speeding along the expressway, heading west out of Toronto.
When I moved to Ontario, I knew that navigating traffic would be one of my biggest challenges. On Canada’s east coast, my worst fears about highway driving were seasonal. Snowstorms, not other drivers, whitened my knuckles.
What surprised me as I began to venture onto highways like the Gardiner Expressway and the devilish 401 was that once you were on them, they weren’t so bad. You simply move with the traffic, match your speed to everyone else’s and keep a healthy distance between your bumper and the car in front of you.
As long as you’re moving forward, driving is relatively easy. It’s the merges that are hard. Switching lanes. Changing direction.
I have taken to avoiding certain routes in order to protect myself from precarious merges. Every now and then I force myself to try them, but mostly, I take a longer, more circuitous route if I have the time.
I pushed myself a couple of weeks ago to take the fast route home from work. This requires a merge across four lanes of speeding traffic. I couldn’t do it and eventually found myself heading back off the highway and looping onto a much calmer city street.
I settled for to my round-about route home, telling myself the meandering drive is more relaxing, asking myself, what’s the hurry, anyway? Maybe this is one change I don’t need to make. At least, not yet.
But there are other changes that I know are absolutely required, and I need to keep mustering the will to make them, even if, at times, I’m left breathless and white-knuckled by the process.
Because here’s the thing I realized during my epiphany. Change may be scary, but hugging the dotted white line is worse.
After the cacophony of horns settled down, after the SUV sped by, there was the slightest gap in traffic, just enough for me to edge my little two-door coupe off that narrow, dotted white line and into a wide, spacious lane.
I made the merge. Not without panic and not without fear. But I made it. And I lived to tell the tale, which proves that change is not the end of the story. It’s what keeps us moving forward. Precarious for a moment, but so necessary for the longer stretch.
Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. Her column appears each Friday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon.