December 23, 2011

On Rules, Perspective, and Humility

Massachusetts is famous for its traffic rotaries. In other places these are more often called traffic circles or roundabouts, but here it's always a rotary.

I never knew this until one recent day when I saw the name on a map I was trying to interpret for some disoriented tourists, but the rotary in my neighborhood is called Murray Circle. It stands at the intersection of the Arborway/Jamaica Way and Centre St., as the latter snakes its way from Jamaica Plain to West Roxbury. Directly to the south of the rotary is the Arnold Arboretum.

On the part of Centre St. on the West Roxbury side of the rotary there are a couple of sets of traffic lights that are alternately red and flashing yellow. A sign next to each set indicates their purpose. It says that the signals are timed to require frequent stops, or something like that. Inevitably, some sarcastic soul will have affixed another adjective to these signs, indicating that the stops are 'needless' or 'pointless.'

To a motorist, perhaps the pauses do seem pointless and needless. But to me, it is very helpful that the drivers speeding into the rotary from the south-east are occasionally stopped.

At least once I a week I offer Mass at the Poor Clare monastery on the other side of the rotary from where I live. I would much rather walk there, as I love the early-morning quiet and solitude. If there is a place where I am most likely to leave this world quickly and decisively in the course of my ordinary daily life, it's trying to cross the rotary where the southbound Arborway leaves it. There's a crosswalk there, but very few drivers respect it. For a significant part of the year, it's not even quite light out yet when I'm trying to cross the rotary around 6:30 in the morning. It's only because of the so-called pointless and needless stops that I occasionally have a chance to cross the rotary and get to Mass, as these stops pause the speeding traffic entering at the closest point to where I need to cross. And lest anyone protest that the stops going the other way out of the rotary remain pointless, these are good too, in the way that they slow down the traffic altogether so that someone may cross.

So, before we call arbitrary or pointless some rule we are asked to follow, may we humbly remember that perhaps our particular situation does not reveal the whole picture.


Anonymous said...

The only thing I remember about Boston roads is that whenever you come across a sign (necessary, optional, or arbitrary), or a blinking light (or two blinking lights of conflicting colors such as red and green), or an intersection ; Close your eyes, say a quick prayer, and STOMP ON THE GAS!!!! Am I wrong?

Brother Charles said...

Indeed...what can be said of driving in Boston? I wrote something on it once, years ago, and a kind friend invited me to take it down for the sake of charity.