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Toan Lam Headshot

Slow Your Roll: Think Twice Before You Yell, Honk or Lose It!

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I was recently driving in downtown San Francisco, smack dab in the middle of rush hour, when I witnessed a kind act that taught me an important life lesson from behind the wheel.

Traffic was packed with pedestrians, bicyclists and zig-zagging skateboarders who were crossing Market and 7th streets like Atari's Frogger game.

Remember that? I think I'm dating myself again. That moment brought me back to my high school driver's education class. For a moment, I felt like I was driving in a simulator, just hoping for a good grade, but this time it was real life waiting to teach me a lesson.

My car was positioned four car-lengths behind the intersection. The light was green, but traffic wasn't moving. Within a few seconds of the light turning green, the drivers behind me started honking their horns. The honking overpowered the hustle and bustle of traffic. For a few seconds, I started getting antsy too, but instead of getting flustered, I looked around inquisitively -- surely, I thought to myself, something going on was creating the snarled and inert traffic.

Suddenly, my angst turned to empathy and I shivered with realization. A blind, disoriented man came into view as he wandered in the middle of the street, not knowing where to go. All this confusion and frustration that everyone else was feeling while in their cars safely tucked away behind the wheel -- imagine how he must be feeling! People screaming, horns honking, not being able to see the multiple sources of anger and annoyance... his confusion trumped ours instantly.

It wasn't until I witnessed three people rushing to usher him out of harm's way that I finally took a breath. Their kindness warmed my heart and made me smile inside and out, and suddenly I was so very thankful that I hadn't let my frustration get the best of me.

The moment triggered memories of my late Auntie Hong Yee. She was a graceful woman, who embodied the word "Zen," and she was my favorite aunt because she never judged and was always supportive of me and my four siblings. We trusted her and felt we could confide in her.

Hong Yee fought a long, courageous battle with cancer and passed away about 10 years ago, but her timeless wisdom embraces us. Not a week goes by that I don't think about her. I used to accompany her on an occasional errand and on some of her medical visits.

She did things on her own timetable, slowly and with patience, and this included driving. She walked at her own pace. She would take her time meticulously cleaning and cooking. Oftentimes, she would drive under the speed limit. If the speed limit said 45 mph, she would carefully drive 40 mph or less.

Cancer slowed her down even more, to about 35 mph. Every time I was in the car with her, people would honk, snicker and even flip the bird at her. As a teenager, I remember getting angry at them. I wanted to shout back at them and explain that she was ill and her days on Earth were numbered. She felt my nervous energy and in a soft, loving voice, she said, "so what... let them get mad, they are not being conscious of what they're doing." I didn't fully understand it then.

This experience changed my outlook on life's speed bumps and barriers that block my path. Through her actions, Hong Yee taught me to be more aware of my impatience and recognize that it is my ego that is getting out of control and driving the negative emotions. I also learned to be conscious of the way I react to other people's actions and not to lash back out of habit -- after all, negativity begets negativity.

I learned that I, too, needed to look at every situation that comes my way with the same compassion and consciousness as my beloved auntie. I wondered, what would the world be like if we viewed all the slow drivers as though they are our aunties, friends, family members or neighbors, who are going through their own battles in life? This awareness is the road map to my actions and has changed the trajectory of how I react.

All of our actions and reactions affect others. If you're a road raging parent, your kids will learn from your actions, and they too may react the same way, while driving, walking or living.

Beep. Beep. You are in the driver's seat when it comes to what you choose to say or do to others. This is what my Auntie Hong Yee taught me: Be aware. Be conscious. And smile at other angry drivers.

(Oh, and don't text while driving.)