The beauty of a pause.
“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” ― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
One warm summer evening around dusk, I took on the cool job of sitting at the helm of a small motorboat.
At first, everything was easy.
We were cruising along Lake Union slowly enough not to create a wake. And the captain—who was napping in the focsle—had set up the autopilot so the boat could practically drive itself to the dock.
The one task beyond the machine was scanning the water for kayakers or other erratically moving boats. That left me plenty of time to soak in the gorgeousness of the glittering Seattle skyline. Once in a while, I’d turn my gaze to the autopilot screen in the dash to see how we were doing.
Near the bottom of the screen was a vaguely triangular shape. The triangle was connected to a straight-ish line, our navigational course. Early on, I noticed that the tip of the triangle was pointed a little too much to the left. Even after several minutes, it didn’t seem to fix itself.
“Dumb autopilot,” I said under my breath, “I have to do your work for you.” Then I grabbed the steering wheel and turned it 20 or so degrees to the right. Problem solved.
As the minutes passed, the pink streaks in the sky faded to a swath of dark purple. By then, the supposedly automated navigation system had become a constant irritant. It showed no interest in aligning the point of the triangle with the course line.
And for some infuriating reason, each time I straightened things up, the gage would show a later-than-before estimated arrival time. And the fuel consumption estimate went up, too.
Eventually, the captain came up from the lower cabin. “Stop touching the steering wheel,” he told me, matter-of-factly.
“Stop touching it so much and see what happens,” he repeated.
So now I know. Autopilots are off course 99% of the time, by design.
They’re designed to be responsive to their immediate environments and make adjustments to minimize resistance. All the while, they keep track of the final destination. Even though they behave as though they’re going the wrong way, they aren’t.
I followed the captain's advice. It wasn’t so easy to keep my hands off the wheel. With each minute, the visibility was getting worse, and I was sweating nervously.
But sure enough, when I resisted the urge to meddle, the boat started finding its way to shore. The course it chose was never in total compliance with, but also never too far astray from the line on the screen.
Is it sometimes hard for you to let things take their course, to trust that things are working out?
Maybe you’re in the middle of a navigating a family vacation. Maybe you’re in the middle of navigating wedding planning. Maybe you’re in the middle of navigating a high-profile work project.
At times like that, with something so precious at stake, it's so easy to lose faith when obstacles appear.
At times like that, we tend to see every little inconsistency with our expectations as proof that we’re headed for doom.
It’s so easy to let jump in and insist on steering the course.
Even if some part of us knows that we're reacting to how big our fear is inside, not the needs of the situation itself. Even if, deep down, we know our insistence on taking control might be making things worse.
So maybe next time we feel the urge to grab for the steering wheel, we can pause.
Then pause again, just a half-second longer each time.
We might find that the people or the things we’re afraid to count on is just waiting; waiting for us to give them enough space to show us how dependable they really are.
And work with them to safely reach the shore, just as we had both wanted to.
PS. This song kept playing in my mind while I was writing this story.