I am one of those people who always wants to be in control. Before I go to sleep at night (way later than I should), I pack everyone’s bags (diaper, work, lunch), make sure the tasks I want the babysitter to do the next day are all listed on my notes and that she’s got all she needs to take the kids out (metro cards, money, fresh water bottles, etc), and clean the kitchen. Then I wake up at 5 a.m. to make sure the kids’ lunches are all organized and their clothes are laid out. After I make the coffee that my partner and I live off of, I prep dinner and make sure the house in order.
It was one of these mornings when my partner called from the road; her route to work was flooded after the recent storm in DC. Could I help her navigate an alternate route, she asked. It took me a few moments to realize my route this particular morning would be the same because this entire semester, I have the honor of teaching (thanks to an amazing colleague) future Episcopal Ministers at a seminary in Virginia, a course introducing them to the world of rabbinic Midrash.
On these days our babysitter arrives early at 7:30 so I can hustle out to Virginia in time for an 8:45 start time. The car ride is normally about 30 minutes but I leave the extra time for thinking, finishing up my prepping, meeting with students, and such. I do not like being late–it is a pet peeve of mine.
I started driving and immediately hit awful traffic. I mean the kind I heard about when I was moving to DC but had yet to experience; the kind of traffic that kept me within a 2-mile radius of my house for over 90 minutes.
First, I thought, “OK, I will call one of my students and let them know we will start class 15 minutes late.” I profusely apologized and promised I would hurry. I waited another 15 minutes and realized it would be 9:30 before I could make it there–at least that’s what Google maps told me. But I was stuck. You know, really stuck. I lived in LA for nearly 10 years and I never experienced traffic like this. I traveled from Manhattan to the Bronx via 87 at its intersection with 95, one of the worst traffic routes in the country, and it didn’t hold a candle to this. I couldn’t get out of the district and into VA no matter how hard I tried. The thoughts in my head in these moments–remember the lecture I gave on the first day of class about clergy and tardiness? They are going to think rabbis are irresponsible! Why didn’t I leave earlier and ask my sister in law to come at 7 a.m.? I can’t believe this is happening, how could I have failed to get to my class, the 2nd to last one of the semester?
Finally, after two hours, I surrendered. They were dutifully waiting in class for me but I was never going to make it, not in a reasonable amount of time. Making these eager future clergy wait any longer would be rude, and sitting in the car any longer might just put me over the edge. I called them and cancelled. I pulled over near a coffee shop and I got out of the car and sat and wrote.
And you know what? No matter how much control I want to have, how much control I exert over my schedule, my kids’ schedules, our house, our laundry, our kitchen, the jobs I choose to take on, the organization of our lives, in the end I don’t control everything or even all that much. In our increasingly complicated lives balancing family and career, I wonder sometimes if the most important battle is in our heads and hearts where we are forced to admit there are so many things that are out of our control.
We are imperfect, life is imperfect–we will miss class, someone will have to pick up our slack, we will disappoint someone, and the world, our world, will not fall apart. Sometimes our best bet is to pull over, turn off the map, stand up, walk outside, take a deep breath, and stop trying to control everything.