Saturday, June 19, 2010

Distracted Driving

By Susan Esther Barnes

Earlier this week I was driving to work when I saw something out of the corner of my left eye. I glanced over, and discovered a couple of thin, shiny threads directly to my left. I swiped at them with my hand, successfully removing them, thinking that would be the end of it.

A couple of minutes later, I saw something moving out of the corner of my left eye. I looked over again, and saw a tiny spider ascending an invisible piece of web. I understand how helpful spiders are, eating mosquitoes and other flying pests, and yet they, especially large spiders, freak me out. Many years ago I saw the movie “Arachnophobia,” which was the only time I actually lost control in the movie theater, instinctively pawing the air in front of me as scenes of spiders filled the screen.

I consoled myself with the fact that this was a tiny spider, as well as with the idea that it was simply making for the safety of the top of the inner car door, where it would likely cower in fear until after I exited the vehicle. Alas, it was not so.

No, this critter was in no way intimidated by my presence or my recent destruction of its earlier strands. As I sped down the freeway at (actual speed has been omitted so as not to incriminate myself, but truly I generally try to stick to no more than 5 or at most 10 MPH or so over the speed limit, and have so far – knock on wood – never been pulled over), this brave tike just went about its business, building its web on the inside of my car window.

Needless to say, this activity was a bit distracting, but I just couldn’t bring myself to kill it, and it never occurred to me to pull over on the side of the freeway to evict it, so I just kept glancing over at it to make sure it wasn’t going to try to use me as one of the anchor points for its web.

Unexpectedly, this experience with the spider turned out to be prophetic of how my week would feel.

It felt like the week was speeding by. While normally I have intense powers of concentration, focusing so much on my work that I tune out everything around me to the extent that sometimes I don’t even notice a colleague calling my name, this week I was decidedly distracted.

As the week rushed by and I tried to concentrate on the task at hand, other thoughts kept popping into my head. Lists of things I needed to do at work, items I wanted to remember to pack for my trip to Israel, the last few items (snacks!) I wanted to buy at the grocery store this weekend, kept ruining my concentration.

While I worked late every evening to make sure I didn’t leave a pile of work for my colleagues while I was gone, and while my mind darted from one thing to another, it became clear that my blog would suffer.

I wanted to write about Judi, who fell in Chicago and hurt her leg so badly she will be in a care center for weeks and in rehab for months after that. I wanted to talk about how delivering a meal to the sick is different when it’s someone you know.

I wanted to write about Rose, whose signature is on my ketubah as a witness to my marriage. Rose, 93 years old and one of the most active people at the synagogue, who is back in the hospital after having a cancer tumor removed, and then developing an infection and abdominal seepage after she was discharged from the first hospital too soon. Rose, who for years has said she’s not afraid of death, who says her first thought upon awakening is, “Oh! I’m still alive!” Rose, who told me last weekend that as they wheeled her into the operating room she suddenly realized, “I don’t want to die.”

Usually when I want to write about things like this, I can feel some semi-conscious part of my mind going over it again and again, picking out words and phrases, harrying it mercilessly until I know it’s time for me to sit down and let it flow onto paper.

This week, the thought process would start, then get derailed, then sputter along a bit, then get dropped entirely for days, then peek up again only to be pushed aside. It was as if all week a little spider just on the edge of my sight kept pulling my thoughts off the road.

At least I have a reason to be distracted. Next week, in Jerusalem.


  1. You connect things in the most interesting ways...not unlike your little spider buddy.