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Why Life in the Fast Lane Isn't Everything It's Cracked Up to Be

03/13/2014 06:00 pm ET | Updated May 13, 2014

I got a well-deserved slap from the universe the other day. Well, it wasn't as much of a slap as it was a gentle nudge. I'm grateful for the reminder to step outside of own head... And happy to share it with you -- just in case you can use one yourself (a nudge, not a slap).

It all began one morning while driving to my favorite coffee place in town. While I usually make coffee at home, every couple of days I treat myself to a stronger brew that I didn't make myself. To get to this spot during the morning hours, one has to deal with rush hour traffic -- something I don't normally have to contend with since I work from home. Adding to the journey is an awkward (yet legal) left hand turn into this local coffee place's parking lot.

On a recent outing, as I waited in my car to make my turn, I noticed an older man and woman walking across the driveway entrance. Thus, I waited to turn, even though there was no oncoming traffic.

"Look at me," I thought to myself, "Being nice to the walkers." (Sure, the law dictates that pedestrians have the right of way, but I was still mentally applauding myself.)

Only it turns out that the man was taking his sweet time walking across the driveway entrance. And we're talking about a short distance here. Minute turned into minutes turned into... Well, more minutes.

Don't worry. I didn't honk or do anything crass like that. But I did have a little passive aggressive hissy fit in the confines of my brain, wondering why the man was lollygagging and/or why he just didn't check to see if a car needed to enter the parking lot and wait if he was going to be so slow about walking across (and therefore blocking) the entrance.

After what seemed like an eternity (one song had ended and another had started on my car stereo -- a true mark of time passage if ever there was one), the man finally made it across, which allowed me to make the turn (after some oncoming traffic went by). No big deal, right? Except that once in line at said coffee place, I happened to start talking to the woman who was with the man.

This wasn't my choice. I saw them both in line in front of me, recognizing them from what would forever be known as "The Great Slow Walking Incident of 2014" and thus I judged them harshly in my brain. After all, they'd robbed me of 2 to 3 minutes of turn time.

(Yes, I know I'm being ridiculous here... But please, stick with me!)

After the man left the line to get a table, the woman turned around and offered me a smile. What could I do but smile back? And after that, a conversation ensued (how dare she!). During the course of what turned out to be a surprisingly nice discussion, the fact that my dog, Latte, is a trained therapy dog came up. At which point the woman started raving about therapy dogs and how much they had helped her husband who had just gone through a series of surgeries and lengthy hospital stays.

Universe. Slapping. Me. (In a gentle, nudge-like fashion.)

Yeah, Gregg... This man had taken a longer than usual time period to walk across the parking lot entrance. And what a celebration that may be have been for him (and his wife). After several surgeries and multiple hospital stays, he was up and walking -- and even enjoying a sunshine-y day while out for coffee with his spouse.

And yet, when in my car, observing all this, I made it all about me.

I'm tempted to shame myself here. But we all know (or at least are hopefully learning) that shame doesn't do much to encourage change. So instead, I'm admitting my ridiculous response to what I thought was dilly-dallying man and celebrating the fact that I was not only able to learn why he was "walking slow" (by my silly standards), but also that his situation offered cause for happiness... Not just in regard to his health and his wife's appreciation for it, but also for my own mental health and inner joy.

It's often when caught up in life's to-do list (or quest for a stronger cup of coffee) that we can also get caught up in our own mental interpretation of what's going on in the world around us -- and then make it all about us, when in fact, it has nothing to do with us. And if we would instead take a moment to breathe and observe, we just might learn something and/or find a reason to count our (and others') life blessing(s).

I probably don't have to tell you that my coffee tasted even more delicious that day. And that now when I see someone doing something that I don't understand, I do my best to stop myself from decoding what they're agenda is and lamenting about how it's affecting me. Instead, I think of this older gentleman and his wife and send out a nonverbal thanks to them. Not only for the valuable reminder, but also for not being as caught up in their own mental drama (as I had been) so that they were able to unknowingly share a valuable life lesson/reminder with me, the guy who really needed to slow down that day.

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