Written by Miri Korbman

Most New Yorkers are familiar with the predictable unpredictability of public transportation. As a frequent commuter myself, I have often experienced the aggravation of subway delays that then lead to missed trains, to missed classes, to snappy outbursts at the first unlucky human being who’s naive enough to ask “what’s wrong?” A delayed subway doesn’t care much about what train you need to catch, the rush you’re in, or the consequences you’ll face if you’re even slightly delayed. How can we cope with the aggravation of being delayed and make the most of such setbacks?

Recently, I was on the B train from Brooklyn to Manhattan, hoping to reach Penn Station in time to make my N.J. Transit train back home. I had already spent a good ten minutes waiting for the subway in Brooklyn, so when the subway got held up at a stop for over 15 minutes – 15 precious minutes ticking past as my window of time left to make my home-bound train narrowed threateningly! – it was hard to hold back from tapping my foot impatiently and with barely-masked anxiety. The apologetic train conductor explained over the loud speaker that we were “being held up by supervision” and would be moving shortly.

Now, I don’t know who “supervision” is in NYC subway vernacular, but when I heard these words a startling yet reassuring thought flashed through my mind. Most of us travel along the road of life determined to reach specific goals, aspirations, or deadlines, but we often encounter obstacles along the way. Granted, it is difficult to remember this at the moment when our progress is being impeded by various unforeseen circumstances, relationships, or other hindrances, but whatever delays or speed bumps we come across along the road of life, we are merely being held up by Supervision. That is to say, if we can recognize that we are not solely responsible for situations and circumstances entirely outside our realm of control, we are setting ourselves up to cope much better with life’s disappointments and frustrations. Though I can indeed exercise control over certain variables such as when I leave my home to try to catch a train or how I plan my route,  unforeseeable delays are just that: unforeseeable, unpredictable, and not in our control! There is a point at which we cease to be in control, and though the effort I put in to accomplishing a goal may be, to an extent, up to me, the outcome is entirely out of my hands. Outcome is controlled by Supervision.

When faced with a delay or period of time where little is known about the immediate future, we always have two choices: (1) We can spend the time watching our levels of anxiety and worry rise, feeling utterly helpless and entirely at a loss for a way to bring about the desired outcome, or (2) We can use waiting period as a time for spiritual growth by recognizing that we are not in control of the outcome. Relinquishing control is both an intensely frightening and liberating experience. Though it is scary at first to admit that we simply cannot fix or determine every single outcome in our lives, it can also be extremely freeing and satisfying to recognize that there is a point at which we are no longer responsible. When we can honestly say “I am doing my best, but the outcome is not in my hands” we may suddenly find that we can stop tapping our feet in impatience, annoyance, and anxious anticipation, and begin to finally sit back and enjoy the view as we travel through the daily triumphs and travails of life. In fact, we might even find that we can use “setback” time to our advantage: Perhaps, instead of using up our energy by worrying about when the delay will be over, we can spend that time immersed in a productive activity.

To make this practical, there are two concrete things we can do when faced with a travel delay:

  1. Recognize we are NOT in control: First, recognize that this delay is not your sole responsibility, and therefore is not always within your capability to fix. Period.
  2. Turn the setback into a springboard: Once we recognize the limits of our control we can begin to “enjoy the view” – e.g., use the time to read a book, learn a new skill you’ve always dreamed of having, do something for someone you love that you otherwise would not have had time to do, or even just to breathe and spend some much-needed time with yourself.

So the next time you experience a subway or bus delay or setback, before your foot starts tapping in annoyance, relinquish control and recognize that this road-block was placed into your path by Supervision. Then, take a step back and come up with a way you can use this setback as a springboard to enhance your relationship with yourself and with others.

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