I will never forget falling asleep while driving back to college late one Sunday afternoon. I was returning from a weekend of visiting my family and I remember feeling drowsy and trying to do everything I could to stay awake. It would have been best, of course, if I had pulled off to rest, but I was on the interstate highway and I mistakenly judged that I could make it home given that I was just ten miles from my apartment. Before I knew what was happening I woke up to find myself driving sixty miles per hour over the grass in the median strip, heading for cars driving in the opposite direction on the other side of the highway! Fortunately, I was able to brake in time to stop just short of what would likely have been an horrific accident.
If you have ever experienced a frightening experience of “driving drowsy” then you, too, can empathize with the engineer involved with the tragic train derailment outside of New York City this past Sunday. He has been admirably honest and transparent by admitting that he nodded off just before the train headed in to a sharp turn. Because he was, in his own words “dozing,” he did not realize that the train he was controlling was going 82 mph in a 30 mph speed zone, which is what apparently caused the train to jump the rails.
Last Sunday, the date of the train derailment, coincided with the Christian celebration of the first Sunday of Advent. The season of Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ and one of its predominant themes is the reminder to “wake up.” Whether you celebrate the season of Advent or not, the reminder to wake up is always helpful for there are many ways in which we can find ourselves falling asleep in life.
We can find ourselves emotionally exhausted and thus find ourselves “driving drowsy” in our important relationships or in our work. We can find ourselves spiritually exhausted and thus driving through life without any clear sense of direction or purpose. And, we can of course find ourselves physically exhausted and getting caught up in a cycle of driving our lives faster and faster.
This time of year can be an especially joyful time of yearand it can be an especially exhausting time of year, and often it can be both at the same time! The pressure, the emotions, and the activities all seem to speed up during this holiday time of year. It's pretty certain that we will have to negotiate some sharp, often unexpected, turns at some point. It is important to remember that we can make a choice right now about how we will drive through these next three weeks. We can get caught up in the pressure of the season and become more and more drowsy as we drive through each day, running the risk of derailment at any point. Then again, we can make a conscious, mindful decision, to drive wide awake through these next three weeks, making choices that allow us to be more attentive and present to ourselves, to others in need around us, and to that which matters most in life.