Tag Archives: Kalamazoo

Learning a &@$#%! Lesson

Dr. Wayne Dyer believed that everyone he met had something to teach him. All he had to do was open himself to the possibility that in every encounter with other people, be they family, friends, or complete strangers, there was an opportunity to learn.

I find this remarkable coming from one of the most influential teachers of recent times. Perhaps his success and his insights were due in part to being so receptive, taking in at least as much as he was putting out.

I’ve applied this principle many times. I can’t say exactly what I’ve learned as a result, but it helps me deal with unusual or unpleasant situations. The ability to think, “What is this person/encounter trying to teach me?” allows me to step back from a reflexive emotional reaction and view things at least partly from a detached perspective. It can get surreal, like a kind of out-of-body experience, but it works.

Why, just this morning. . .

I’m at a recycling conference in Kalamazoo this week, sustainability being one of my passions. I began the day with a run (another passion) around the Western Michigan University campus, including this pretty little park that began as storm water containment and became a wetland with local plantings.

As it was a beautiful spring morning, I ate breakfast outside and then, almost reluctantly, changed and headed to the conference. As I walked down the sidewalk toward the hotel, a woman on an old bike passed me from behind, pedaling hard. She yelled several obscenities at me as she went by.

After the initial shock, I wondered what the heck I’d done. I hadn’t blocked the sidewalk, and it couldn’t have been personal; we didn’t know each other, and the whole thing lasted maybe three seconds. Perhaps she had some mental challenges, or was just in a bad mood. But there was no point in speculation. I had to let it go.

So – what could I possibly learn from that? Yes, that thought really did come to mind. Most likely, nothing. Regardless, I told myself, I couldn’t let her bad attitude ruin my day. Getting angry at her would have been “yelling at an empty boat” – accomplishing nothing and spoiling my good mood.

But then I realized what kind of mood I’d really been in.

Right after the run I had indeed been in a good mood. It’s one of the benefits running provides me. But during breakfast my mind had drifted to our current political situation, which I happen to despise, and gradually I’d slipped into cynical mode, coming up with “snide yet humorous” things to write about our government leaders. I’d been slowly poisoning my good mood, withdrawing into myself and closing off the world around me.

And her blast of expletives, however shocking and unpleasant, had been a reboot, a mental defibrillation. For my bad attitude had vanished, and in its place came forgiveness and gratitude for what she’d done. Ass-kicked out of self-absorption, I had reopened myself to learn, and could make full use of the conference. Which was a good thing, because today’s sessions and conversations were packed full of things I hadn’t known about, or that improved my existing knowledge. It was one of the most productive learning and networking days I’ve ever had.

So thank you, mysterious bike lady, for the lesson. And Dr. Dyer, even though we never met and you’re now beyond my ability to do so, thank you too.

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Ride Silent, Ride Strong

Last week I took part in the Ann Arbor Ride of Silence, a three-mile group bike ride through the downtown commemorating the five cyclists killed and four injured in Kalamazoo earlier this month. The mood was very similar to the “Boston Strong” group run in 2013; subdued, but with a strong undercurrent of positive energy as the community came together in support.

A2 RoS - Gathering

Tim Potter, the race organizer, told me the turnout was far higher than he expected. By my rough count, there were over two hundred cyclists. Ann Arbor mayor Christopher Taylor was there, and spoke briefly about the need for drivers and cyclists to share the road safely.

A2 RoS - Starting Out

We had a police escort, but even so the route presented a challenge, both to the cyclists and the drivers downtown during rush hour. The size of the group meant that it took over five minutes to pass through the intersections, and I’m sure many drivers felt inconvenienced as a result. I felt bad about that, but not enough to quit the ride. The nine riders in Kalamazoo struck by an out-of-control pickup truck were inconvenienced permanently.

You can read more about the reason for the ride here. And here you can read a letter of thanks from a Kalamazoo cyclist that Tim read out loud.

A2 RoS - State Street

And now I must editorialize.

Reading the articles about the ride on MLive, I was surprised at the number of negative comments. Some of them questioned the need or ‘purpose’ of the ride. And some adopted the ‘blame the victim’ angle by criticizing cyclists in general for breaking traffic laws, e.g. riding through stop signs. Yes, some of that happens.

But the Kalamazoo cyclists were doing nothing wrong. What happened to them was entirely the fault of someone who’d decided that society’s rules about driving responsibly didn’t apply to him. If the victims had been in another car (he’d sideswiped at least one) or pedestrians (he just missed a guy coming out of a store), no one would be talking about how “that group” was to blame in any way. This anti-cyclist attitude concerns me. Why does it have to be seen as “us versus them”?

Ghost bike. Way too many of these.

Ghost bike. Way too many of these.

I ride over a thousand miles a year, so far without trouble. I do my best to be visible and to obey traffic laws. And yet I’ve been buzzed by cars and startled by people who think it’s funny to yell insults or bark like a dog as they roar by. I also know people who think that cyclists don’t belong on the road at all, and have told me how annoyed they get with those damn bikers getting in their way.

MDOT_share_the_road_sign_419309_7But cyclists have a right to the road in Michigan; it’s the law. And they deserve to have drivers treat them with the same respect as they would other vehicles on the road. That includes defensive driving principles that we all learned in driver’s ed. Slow down and give the cyclist a little space. And be sober when you get behind the wheel. Is that too much to ask?

I will continue to ride the roads. And I encourage anyone to take up cycling. It’s good for you. Ride strong, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, and everyone.