Trying to cross a road in Rome, where vehicular traffic streamed endlessly from all directions, I remember observing other pedestrians who boldly ran halfway across the street, frantically looking all around, only to retreat back to where they had started, when they suddenly realized they could not reach the other side of the road without getting hit. I looked for another way to get across the street, but there were no other options: no crosswalk, no overhead sidewalk (laughable, I know), no nothing. Like everybody else, I hesitated and then focused my attention on finding a suitable gap in the flow. Unfortunately, all the Italians racing motorized vehicles seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere. Quite the opposite for the Italians sitting in cafes, sipping their wine, chatting with their neighbors, laughing at the foreigners trying to cross the road. They appeared happy to just sit and observe life. I wanted to get over to their side of the road. But how?
Crossing the road in Rome, Hanoi, or any other big city with scant semblance of order or structural enforcement can be intimidating or even deadly for even the most bravest of adventure seekers. There is something unsettling about imagining our flesh going up against man-made machines going at accelerated speeds. It’s not an inviting feeling, and it certainly didn’t entice me to step off the sidewalk almost 16 years ago. But, because I HAD to cross the road, I did the only think I could, without thinking further, I just willed my body forward and took a bold step off the sidewalk and into the suicidal stream of sacriledge. I focused my attention directly in front of me, trying to keep my tremendous fear at bay. The whizzing of Vespas and motorcycles around me blew my long hair every which way, but even when strangled strands of hair blocked my view, I maintained my steady and determined gait with no hesitation, and by putting one foot in front of the other, I reached the other side unscathed.
What I learned, on that day in Rome, was to stop trying to control things that I could not control. Rather than trying to calculate the best ‘gap’ in the frantic chaos of too-many-cappuccino-induced drivers, I just became part of it. After I succumbed to the chaos and let myself go, I just went with the flow. Amazingly, the Vespa drivers, the motorcyclists, and the cabbies all modulated their speeds, their accelerations and their maneuvers to avoid hitting me. Wow!
Can this method also be applied to other crossroads in our lives? Is it better to simply let go and take the first step, then to worry, over analyze, plan to death, or procrastinate? Is letting go better even when we have no clear direction or goal in mind?