Red lights reminded me to stop
Driving home the other day I was stopped at a red light. If you live in London, ON you’ll know that’s a common occurrence, not a noteworthy event. Perhaps I was spoiled by my time in Hamilton (something not often said) but there, at least, the traffic signals were timed so red lights were relatively rare. On most days in London you’ll hit more reds than greens. I’m slowly getting used to that.
While I waited for the light to change I recognized the middle-aged man standing on the corner. I stared, trying to determine how I knew him and just as the light changed, it clicked. It was Kirk–a guy I met a few months ago that inspired one of my stories. I smiled as I drove away, fondly remembering our conversation about squirrels.
The timing for this sighting was interesting and I’m convinced it was no fluke.
I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe there is purpose in the seemingly insignificant and unassuming events. This was a moment I was supposed to notice and a specific person I was meant to see. But why? There had to be a reason I saw him that day. In a city of over 380,000 people, chance encounters like this don’t seem plausible. I hadn’t seen him since that day in April and I wasn’t even driving through his neighbourhood.
And to make it even more strange, I saw him again the next day!
This time he was driving and we were stopped side-by-side at, guess what, another red light. Two days in a row? That was weird. I waited for him to glance in my direction but he didn’t. Part of me is thankful he didn’t because the shocked and confused look on my face would have been an odd sight. Again, I drove away without him seeing me but with a smile on my face.
I told my wife about the squirrel-guy sightings and we were confused yet intrigued by its meaning. We were convinced there had to a reason for it. At her urging, I re-read the story about squirrels and this part resonated:
I get so consumed by my stuff that I lose sight of others. My world most days consists of my home, car, workplace, and to-do list. Each day has its routine and I move from one place to the next not often breaking the pattern. Every now and again, there’s a special occasion or something new, but once it’s done I quickly retreat to the safety and predictability of my world.
Two days in a row, I saw the guy who unknowingly spurred me to write that story. Both times while at a red light. And what’s significant about a red light? It tells us to stop. The message was clear. I’ve been caught up in my own world–consumed by my family’s life, grumbling about circumstances (which my friend recently wrote about), stuck in a rut, and feeling worn down by destructive habits.
There are times when I need to stop two things:
1) Stop moving, pursuing and doing.
As a husband, father, and homeowner I can easily spend time doing stuff. I can also expend energy chasing career goals or status symbols. There will always be things to keep me busy if I so choose but it’s important to stop. Be reminded of simple pleasures. Enjoy the beauty of nature. Identify and limit time-wasters (that can be both people and activities). Prioritize creating instead of consuming. Invest in deep relationships. Build and strengthen instead of tear down. Reflect on life and the things that matter most. Pray, read and meditate. Stop and rest.
2) Stop one thing in order to start something else.
Time is limited so it makes sense that if I want to start something new then I have to stop something else. If I’m going to read more I need to stop wasting time on TV. Stop staring at my phone and spend more quality time with my family. I can take advantage of the available time in the morning if I stop sleeping to last possible minute. Stop criticizing and start praising. Enjoy the moments and worry less about the future. It’s a challenge that is much simpler in theory, but to start the positive I must stop the negative. It is a fruitful path to contentment.
Life will continue to change, often in ways outside of our control. But the two things I just listed are areas where we do have authority. We can choose to stop behaviours and habits that limit our growth and interfere with our joy. We can choose to stop focusing on the negative. We can stop busying ourselves with superficiality. There are parts of our lives where we can dictate when, how and what to stop. There is much we can’t control so we should take full advantage of what we can.
I’ve seen a number of self-help materials telling people to live intentionally. Forgive my cynicism but it seems these buzzwords have only given us a way to rephrase our guilt into a wish. Intentions can only be meaningful when actions result. I would argue that living intentionally doesn’t need to be stated, it’s just something you do.
If you’ve reached the point of identifying what you want to stop–whether that is to start something new or just to rest–then do it.
It doesn’t happen often, but this week I’m thankful for red lights. They reminded me I need to stop sometimes. Then I can pay attention to life around me, see beauty, enjoy simplicity, love deeply, contribute to our world and recharge fully. Seeing my squirrel-hating friend was no coincidence. I desperately needed the reminder to stop.