Mandan News

Brian L. Gray: Slow down. It’s good for you.

Brian L. GrayI live with a faster than average ticking mental clock these days.

That’s what I told myself while doing my best not to crash my car following a recent snowstorm. I was driving about 15 miles an hour on the icy roads, trying to keep my momentum and also keep control. You know how that goes if you live on the prairie, where winter often begins around September and hangs around until August.

Never mind the fact that I was playing slalom with the snowdrifts on the road, there was something else at play that was making me nervous. Moving at that speed made me feel I was dragging, and it’s not like me to move at a slow pace. At that, quite frankly, stressed me out.

I’m naturally a speeder. And I know cops read this paper. I confess. Yes, I speed. Like, all the time. When I drive slow I get edgy and irate – to the point where I’ll yell at a busload full of nuns if they slow me down. During the storm I was riding that wave of discomfort, until a memory arose and instantly put me at ease. I thought back to when I was a young kid sitting in the backseat of our old family car, a 1984 Chevy Celebrity station wagon. Our entire family of six was in the car late at night, and our dad was driving us home from a long road trip.

I was watching my dad with awe as he navigated along the dark roads. He was a traveling salesman for Eckroth Music for nearly 30 years, so he’s a veteran – nay, a warrior – behind the wheel. I observed his hands on the wheel, the way he intricately moved it side to side, with a rhythm that made me think he was orchestrating a pitch-perfect synchronization between the car and the road that I couldn’t begin to understand. I watched this elaborate navigating, convinced I’d never be able to do that. To me it was like witnessing a work of art, the way he subtly controlled the wheel.

I knew I was always safe when my dad was behind the wheel. He drove with a calm poise and focus, and never rushed while on the road. This was what put me at ease while driving during the recent snowstorm, and I said to myself, “Be more like your dad,” and I was no longer irate.

In my young eyes, there was a subtle grace to my dad’s driving. I was in awe of the complex understanding he had behind the wheel. This admiration eventually grew to haunt me to the point where I wasn’t able to get my license until I was 19. I was convinced driving was such a complicated procedure that there was no way I’d ever learn. It took way too many hours of driving than normally necessary to finally convince myself I could actually do it.

A few years later I was driving with my dad for the first time. After a series of white-knuckle near-accidents and various mishaps immediately followed by words my dad never usually used and I only heard during late night cable movies, he finally spurted out to his nervous and unskilled pimply redheaded son behind the wheel, “Watch the road!”

That immediately put everything into perspective for me. I needed to watch the road, and not my hands. He was right. Only a fool focuses not on the destination, but the shoes used to get there. Years of misguided childhood theories were obliterated in an instant, and I was finally able to learn how to actually drive.

It’s truly amazing how much impact can come from three simple words.

And since then I’ve become the best driver on the road. Some days, in fact, I’m convinced I’m the only good driver on the road.

The road these days is not the only place I speed. My livelihood, my job, pits me in a position where I’m always in a race against the clock. I’m constantly in a rush. So much, in fact, that I don’t think I’ve had a complete thought in my head since 2008.

There’s also something about being in your thirties where you begin to feel like the time has come to accomplish those things you’ve let slide over the years, like some invisible deadline looms and you need to have those goals accomplished before you move into that next step in life, whatever it might be.

That’s where I’m at now, and I often feel that surge driving me, like I’m racing against some deadline that never really comes. It hasn’t been a perfect pursuit, as I’m still working on this whole “slow your life down” thing. But I’m getting better at it.

To help me out, I often go back to those childhood moments of watching my dad behind the wheel. It’s become my mental mantra of sorts to remind me to slow my life down. Not just while in the car but everywhere. I’m trying not to feel so pushed to move onto the next thing so quickly. Rather, I’m trying to better appreciate the now, to focus less on where I’m going but where I’m at.

He might have never meant to, but that’s something my dad taught me. I still feel comfort whenever I think of him behind the wheel. I knew I was always safe when he drove, and now I have full confidence that I’m safe whenever I’m behind the wheel, and so is anyone else who drives in my car.

I often think of that comfort he provided me when I was younger, and it leads me to think that one day I may have kids of my own sitting in the backseat who’ll be able to sleep calmly through the trip, knowing their dad is keeping them safe.

Because they’ll know I don’t go too fast. They’ll know I’m alert and cautious, and I think before I make a move. They’ll know they can rest comfortably because I’ll be holding them close from my driver’s seat, making sure they know that they are in safe and protective hands.

And maybe one of my kids will one day watch my hands a little too intently and become too afraid to ever get a license.

But they’ll learn. Because I did.