Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Sheltered From Anger

The light was red as I rolled to the well-worn stop line on my two wheeled conveyance. It was the last major street I would have to cross before reaching home, the endpoint for a fifty mile ride. A small white car that had been sitting at the drive-thru window of a convenience store pulled across the street and came up behind me. It hadn’t been there for more than a couple of seconds when I heard a man’s voice, “Go!”

I looked up at the red light and then yelled over my shoulder, “It’s red.”

“Get out of the way! I’m going to bump your mother f_____g a__!”

“The light’s red,” I yelled again. I thought about what would happen if he carried out his threat. His front bumper would hit my rear wheel first. Aside from the damage it would do to my bicycle, it would knock me off my feet.

A few seconds passed. The light turned green and I crossed the road, hoping that he wouldn’t follow. He didn’t. He made his right turn and the situation was over.

Though situations like this one are rare, they do happen. I can only guess why this particular guy was impatient and why he wanted me to break the law so that he could make a right turn on red. It seems like some people get impatient around bicycles even when the bicycle isn’t really causing them an inconvenience. But another thought occurred to me.

If I had been driving my truck, he still would’ve been in just as much of a hurry. I would’ve still been blocking him from making a right turn on red. He might have even yelled at me. The difference is that I wouldn’t have heard him yelling. With layers of metal and glass between us and the air conditioner running, I would’ve be oblivious to anything he said and it is unlikely I would’ve seen him do anything.

When I tell people why I think they should ride a bicycle, one of the things I mention is that when you ride a bicycle you interact more with people in your community. The metal and glass shells on our cars insolate us from human interaction. But while on a bicycle, I’ve have spoken to neighbors I know only by sight. I’ve have strangers stop me to ask directions. I’ve had people stop to talk while I was locking up my bicycle at a restaurant. The angry guy in the white car is just another of my neighbors choosing to communicate with me.

We can chalk this situation up to an attitude of entitlement. The guy in the little white car felt that he was entitled to make a right turn on red, even though there was another vehicle in front of him. Perhaps he saw it as just a bicycle and since he was driving a car, he deserved to pull forward. In any case, he felt entitled and that is just another word for pride. Pride is sinful.

I don’t like getting into these situations, but when we remove the shell that prevents us from communicating with the world around us, not all communication will be the kind we like. We are going to encounter sinful people who become angry, call us names, and curse at us, even when we are doing nothing wrong. These are the people Jesus died for.

When you think about it, we ought to encounter people like this more frequently than we do. When you remove the mask of politeness that so many people put on, this is what the world is like. The question is, why don’t we see it? To that I say it is because we are a bunch of monks. We hide out in our homes until we choose to go somewhere, but the places we choose are those places where we expect to encounter people who will respect us. We go to church, where people are like minded. We go to stores and restaurants where people are paid to be nice to us. In between these places we ride around in privacy boxes, so that people who are just feet from us are prevented from communicating beyond a blow of the horn or a middle finger raised in anger. Whether it is out on the roadways or in other places, if we are so sheltered that we don’t encounter people who express anger toward us, we are too sheltered to have an impact on the world.