There’s this particular off-ramp in Cambridge, Massachusetts that takes one from the typically fast-paced Mass Pike immediately into the pages of Dante’s Inferno. Though instead of the nine circles of Hell, if one wishes to turn left on Memorial Drive, one must quickly traverse the six lanes of hellish traffic. If you have the mixed fortunate of living or working in Harvard Square and you own an automobile, perhaps you know of what I speak?
If it is late at night or very early in the morning (say, 3 a.m.), it’s a relatively simple journey across those half-dozen lanes. However, at most times of the day or night, it is a merge-happy nightmare, not at all helped by equally annoyed motorists who are loath to allow entry, even though they might have every intention of heading to the right, in the opposite direction.
So, it happened one fine day that I was driving to my friend Victor’s place. As I came off the exit ramp and approached the first perilous crossing, I saw the wall-to-wall vehicles, appearing to all the world like colorful rows of angry, snorting bulls. My heart sank. I put my left turn signal on and gently, pleadingly, tried to slip in front of a car that seemed to be slightly lagging. Immediately, a man sitting in the passenger seat put is hand up, palm out, as if to say, “STOP. NO.” He had a stiff, sour expression on his face, which instantly soured my own mood and made me very angry.
Suddenly, I hated Massachusetts drivers, despised Boston traffic, and wondered if my decision to stay in the area and not move to the West Coast was the wrong choice. I am often way too affected by others’ bad moods, and this was an extreme example. I yelled out profanities (which of course, neither he nor his driver heard), and my stomach tightened.
I let them pass, and the very next car let me in, but that act of kindness did nothing to wipe his ugly, contorted face from my mind. Then, I saw her. She was old, in tattered clothes, standing by the side of the road with a shopping basket of belongings. The homeless often panhandle for money in that spot, as there are so many trapped motorists, all day long, and who knows? Someone might be kind enough to spare a few coins or even a dollar. I usually don’t. But today, I saw her, and my heart broke. I thought about how horrible and selfish our world had become, epitomized by that severe man with his icy hand gesture.
The woman hobbled over on a cane, her clothes hanging off her. It was very cold out, and I wondered if she was warm enough. Probably not. I quickly handed her a dollar through a hastily opened window, as the lights had changed and the cars started to move again.
As soon as I had done this, I felt the weight of anger and hatred lift. I felt physically, emotionally and spiritually lighter. It was immediate.
I drove the rest of the way to Harvard Square. I usually have trouble finding parking, but that day, I turned the corner onto Victor’s street, and there was an empty space right there, waiting for me.
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