The London Underground first opened in 1863, making it the oldest rapid transit system in the world. Because of the space between the platform and the train, a recorded voice was installed in 1968 to warn travelers to “mind the gap” every time the train stops at a station. It has since become a catchphrase for everything from T-shirts to door mats to video games. These three words ask passengers to pay attention to the step between where they are and where they want to go. Falling in the space between the platform and the train can cause serious injury.
I’d like to suggest that “mind the gap” is a prudent reminder to be thoughtful of this space in our life journey, represented by where we stand now and where we want to go. We need to mind the gaps in our growth. When we are mindful, we increase our ability to choose wisely. Mindfulness can heighten our awareness of what is going on both outside of ourselves and inside, so we process what we see and feel before choosing to respond. This helps eliminate a thoughtless knee-jerk reaction, which would be equivalent to falling through the space between the platform and the train. Choosing if, when, and how to respond is a sign of personal growth, and definitely illustrates a healthy minding of the gap.
When we have cancer, or any illness, we mind the gap between where we are in our diagnosis and where we want to be through treatment. After looking at our options, we choose what is best for us knowing that if changes are needed along the way, we will make them.
In the middle of a pandemic it is easy to get swept up in anxiety and fear, projecting the worst-case scenarios for the future. Viktor Frankl writes in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” That space is where we “mind the gap.” This is the time to make friends with uncertainty, no matter how uncomfortable that feels. Answers to managing COVID-19 will come slowly, so we can choose to take all the precautions we’re aware of, knowing we’re doing our best, or we can react with anger and risk-taking. This gap is too critical to fall through.
Minding the gap in relationships is also helpful. When relationships fall into predictable patterns, blind spots can develop and do serious damage. When we explore where we are and where we want to be in our relationships, we can identify what is working well and what needs to change. We take responsibility for our words and actions, and problem-solve with honesty, vulnerability, and compassion. Each person’s feelings are honored. Respect and shared values are as important as love in bridging the gap between a stagnant friendship and a dynamic, growing bond. And if a person becomes toxic, that is the time to end the connection because that gap is destructive.
When it comes to taking on a new challenge, there is the gap between what we want to do and fear of failure. This is where we want to avoid letting yesterday’s mistakes create fear for trying something new tomorrow. We mind the gap well when we treat past experiences as a helpful resource for future decisions, instead of a reason to avoid trying anything new. Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have travelled from the point they started.” Just trying something new is an accomplishment, no matter how it turns out.
My husband and I loved traveling through England and frequently used the Underground. The phrase “mind the gap” brings back delightful memories and is a reminder to remember that there are many ways to get from where we are to where we want to be. Let’s all enjoy the pleasure and success of looking at our lives and seeing clearly how we’re helping ourselves get to where we really want to go. And let’s remember to enjoy the journey!