Recently on the way home, I stopped at a huge roundabout in my area. One of those that have four roads that converge at it. Each feeder road to the roundabout has a set of these bright and modern LED traffic lights. In addition, there are other lights on the roundabout itself with four sets of lights each facing a feeder road. I wonder why there are two sets of traffic lights per road. Is it for those who miss the first set of lights so they get reminded by the second set to stop, wait or go? By the time you jump the first set of lights then you’re already in the roundabout so what’s the point? Anyhow that’s my theory. I’m probably wrong. At night all those lights look like one huge Christmas tree or like a disco without the music.
I find it fascinating when the lights are red, and we have stopped. I start looking around instinctively at the folks in the cars beside me. The chaps selling peanuts come to sell their njugus at my window. Luckily, they’re polite enough to move on fast when I decline to buy. I admire their hard work though. Standing in the sun for the whole day with their feet on the hot tarmac is sheer resilience. Then there’s the person living with disability holding a plastic cup being pushed in a wheelchair begging for money. Compared to the njugu boys these other folks stay longer at my window and I feel like their eyes see through me even as my tinted window remains up. Maybe this pricks my conscience and that’s why it feels like they linger for longer. To end the discomfort, I have often given them money. Though I still wonder if that’s the best form of help.
For most of us, life at 40 is when the red light is on. We end up stopping (stalling) either willingly but for mostly unwillingly. We start looking around us and getting familiar with our surroundings. We notice the good, the bad and sometimes even the ugly. Unfortunately, some of us want to accelerate to beat the red lights because we are uncomfortable in stopping, doing nothing and just waiting. I was that speeding guy for a long time because I was ill-equipped to just chill and have no plan. It’s worse when you’re coming from a first half of pushing hard and achieving one feat after another. Jumping the lights in our first half is more the norm than the exception. In fact, when we find someone ahead of us obeying the lights, we honk at them in irritation. I wonder if all matatu drivers are still in their first half of life. The rat race is real folks.
As I seat at those lights often, I notice drivers start rearing to go as we stare at the countdown from red to yellow or green. Yaani the way we are fixated on the countdown to yellow is like we are waiting to be flagged off in a Formula one race.
I’ve often wondered how life would be like if we had a countdown screen that showed us how much time we had to move from one stage to another. Initially, we might be glad because it becomes predictable but with time it gets boring because there is no room for the adventure that the unknown brings.
I’m convinced the second half of life will serve us well if we start slowing down as we approach a junction or roundabout in life. We should anticipate the blinking yellow lights and fight our foot from accelerating but chill as the lights turn red. We might just be avoiding an accident by rushing past the lights and colliding with someone who is still speeding in the Formula one rat race. I’m learning to enjoy the waiting at the lights and appreciate my surroundings. And trying too not to judge the guy in the big SUV that’s dwarfing my car, wondering how he acquired that ride. God help me, this is the kind of thinking I must sanitize my brain from if I am to live a life of serving people well. Work in progress folks.
Recently there seemed to be a malfunction at that roundabout as I headed home. The green and yellow light had combined and were blinking at the same time. I was confused if I should go or stop. That reminded me of how my 40s have been, laden with confusion and uncertainty. With time I have come to realize and appreciate that the confusion is like a rite of passage to reformat my settings into doing life with uncertainty as the new certainty. I’m slowly working on giving up control and being comfortable not having a plan sometimes. For my big thing to unfold, it must be beyond my abilities so I’m learning to work as if it depends on me and pray as if it depends on God because it does. If you can figure out everything you’re working on, then that’s not a big plan.
That said I couldn’t give up control of my steering wheel as the lights confused me. I waited for a while hoping the lights will go back to normal. After what seemed like a long time, motorists behind me started hooting for me to move on. I did the drill I teach my baby sharks before crossing the road. Look right then look left then right again and if it’s all clear cross the road. I decided to drive on as the road was clear but also because I knew where I was going despite the light’s confusion.
Folks, it’s important to obey the traffic lights of life. Every color has an instruction that we should follow. But equally important is to know that you are on the right junction to your desired destination. Obeying the lights will get us there in one piece.