Gas Station Procrastination
January 21, 2018
Assalamu Alaykum My Dear Students,
I hope you receive this letter with the best of health, integrity, and Iman.
I thought that I had rid myself of much of my procrastination by making extensive use of task lists. Meaning, I schedule To Do List items to do my projects, splitting them into very small doses. I have four separate To Do Lists: Loyola matters (Todoist), Personal Maintenance (Toodledo), Study (Wunderlist), and Complex Projects (Asana). After multiple attempts at multiple methods, that is a system that -- for now -- works for me. Over the past year, I was more productive than I had been in the prior five years combined. I expect more for this coming year.
It did not occur to me that I am far from a full cure for procrastination until I was headed to a gas station a few days ago.
One of the blessings of driving a Hybrid is that I can let my gas tank sit at Zero for quite a few miles before refilling my tank. I discovered last semester that I could go for a full day with an empty tank. Maybe more.
You can see where this story is going, and it goes there. Let's continue.
I had to get to an appointment off campus and was driving down Lake Shore Drive, passing through that S-curve near Randolph and drove over a pothole. Something didn't sound right. The car started to slow, feeling heavy. I looked at my dashboard for that orange "flat tire" sign, which did not appear, and wondered if I had such a warning.
Still rolling around the curve, a red light appears with an exclamation point. My car starts to shut down. The dashboard has a little battery sign showing me how much energy I have, and it starts to drop to "empty."
My car stops in the middle of the intersection of LSD and Monroe. Rush Hour approaches. So, I have to get out and push it. Tires are okay. Good thing I've been going to the gym because this process was far more natural than expected. I should take a Junior High School moment here to flex my biceps in self-approval.
I roll the car to the right lane and have to take a moment to figure out how to get some gas. I make some calls. My emergency blinkers flash, and I keep looking in my rearview mirror at the cars that speed towards me. If one of those drivers is staring at text messages, it's all over.
As I type this, I realize something stupid. While my car sits there, I should have perched myself on the side of the road. If the car got hit, I would be fine. It was cold outside, but it was getting cold in my car. Hindsight. I could have avoided that giant semi-truck that plowed into my car sending me flying into the Grant Park trees.
Those cars were coming so quickly, and no, that thing with the truck and trees did not happen, but I had to embrace a moment of fatalism. I was at that moment in life without any power to do anything. I have done all I can. I am in this predicament because my own doing: procrastinating something as simple as taking two minutes to fill a tank of gas.
About a decade ago I went through one of the darkest periods in my life and was able to find some light when I was able to embrace my powerlessness. Often, we seek to increase our power to decrease our vulnerability. On a side note, this is why most of your parents want you to become physicians: life as a doctor is a stable life with potential luxury, cash brings ability, which means -- in theory -- that cash decreases vulnerability. In theory, because if you are to be tested, you *will* be tested. Still, in this economy, that is not a wrong career choice especially considering that you are going to school to get a job; though I wish my students would also go to school to get an education as well. It would also be nice to become a health professional to help people with their health.
Anyways, I was going through huge personal problems but kept trying to fight as though I was punching fists into a Tsunami. When, however, I was able to embrace my powerlessness -- not unlike that famous "Serenity Prayer" -- I was able to let go. I was able to make peace with my situation. When I was able to make peace with my situation, I was able to take ownership of my culpabilities, and accept the rest as God's Will. Acceptance of God's Will is not resignation, as much as calibration: resignation is avoidance while calibration is straightening your understanding of circumstance. Some of you come to my office trying to fight your Tsunamis, and you experience all the frustration I did back then. We like to say that everything is a "Test," but when we are tested, we do not like to be tested, so we fight and protest, and we become more miserable than we need to be. If we can figure out what elements are God's test upon us, then we respond to God, rather than to a human instigator.
So, sitting in my car, I know I'm being tested. Further, I had to get to appointments. A much younger version of me would have been overloaded with stress. This is the first time in my life that my car stopped because of lack of gas, but I am not able to count the many times I have had a car break down in all the worst places. I have been in cars that have broken down in the middle of the Dan Ryan. I have been in cars that have broken down in sketchy neighborhoods. I had had bikes whose tires went flat when I was far from home or an air pump. Nothing new. When you are hit, you can choose either to despair or to get your job done. So, I called the various offices I had to visit to let them know of my circumstances, letting them know I'll be late.
Embracing my powerlessness without a choice but to wait, I continue to pray. "Alhamdulillah 'ala kulli." "Praise and gratitude are due to Allah over everything." When hit with such a struggle, just keep reciting it, reflecting on its meaning. Sometimes in such moments, we complain of our lowly state. Sometimes in those moments, we praise. I keep glancing at that rearview mirror, taking deep breaths when cars speed towards me. I continue to pray.
The man comes with gas. A gallon. My car starts. My tank still flashes at Zero. My battery is still near empty, but slowly it fills.
A person with sense would have gone directly to some place to fill gas. But I like pushing my limits. Instead, I sit in Rush Hour traffic on the highway, having passed a few exits that would have taken me to gas stations because I wanted to get to my appointment.
I stare at my tank. Flashing. I stare at my battery, which is reaching half-full. That is more than enough to take me.
And, then for some reason, the battery power went down a notch. And, that scared me. It also made me laugh, as I imagined calling up gas person again to bring me another gallon. So, I decided to get my gas. I cut across a bunch of lanes to an exit. I drive to a station, and as I head to the station, it hits me, "I still procrastinate." I was procrastinating getting gas when my car was low on gas, minutes after running out of gas. That is next-level procrastination.
The entire travail added a mere ninety minutes to my travels, Alhamdulillah. It has come and gone and will be forgotten, except when useful for letters like this. I am remembering a whole list of things I need to add to To Do Lists that I had forgotten, like updating my will. But, in those ninety minutes, life showed me some truths about myself, and life showed me some truths about life.
And Allah knows best.