Sunday, April 8, 2007

Adding insult to injury

This happened a week or two ago now, but it's not something I was ready to share yet. I don't especially mind getting hurt, but there is something about a person insulting everything that you believe in and stand for that hurts far worse than physical pain. I want to share it.

I am also going to make some analogies to other aspects of life. My intent is not to offend or upset anyone, but I want people to know my feelings.

The last couple of weeks have been rough. I've been leaving the house at about 6 each morning and there have been many evenings I don't get home until well after 9 or 10 (11 on occasion). I was riding home one night and it was nearly 10. Of course it was dark, but I had my bright clothes on and my obnoxious flashing lights so I was seen. Actually I think I'm better seen at night with my blinkies than I am during the day with my bright colored clothes.

I was riding the same route I take every day and a big dually diesel pickup pulled up next to me. He saw me, he even moved a little into the next lane to avoid hitting me. Then he got up along side me, slowed down and nice and slowly pushed me off the side of the road with his diesel behemoth. It wasn't a big deal, the ride got a little bumpy over in the gravel and pot holes, but there was no harm done. Then he slowed a little more so that I was really close (and so that he could could accelerate more). He accelerated. When you accelerate in a behemoth diesel, it lets out a huge cloud of black smoke. It filled my face and lungs. His attempt to spray gravel at me was pretty weak, but the exhaust in my face and his (I'm assuming it was a guy) intentions really hurt.

As soon as I could breath again I gave chase to the pickup. I can often catch cars in the city when they have to stop at stoplights and such. We were on a little country road 3-4 miles to the next stoplight. I didn't catch him to get his plate number. I wonder if that is "assault with a deadly weapon"? It should be. He certainly assaulted me. And a vehicle is certainly a deadly weapon, although getting hit would cause death more quickly, exposure to ambient air pollution (mostly caused by cars) is also closely related to death.

The rest of the ride home I was mad and depressed. What had I done to him? Nothing, except there are many cyclists on the road that don't follow the rules and make drivers mad. He may have been retaliating for that (in which case the "cycling world" may have deserved it). But I personally had done nothing to this motorist. I was doing the exact thing he was doing, trying to get from point A to point B by a means that is faster than walking. Additionally I was trying to get exercise and save the planet from pollution by taking my bike rather than another form of transportation. I have dedicated my life to that goal. I am pursuing a doctoral degree in exercise science and focusing my research on city planning that will help people be more active and less polluting. Exercise and a clean environment are a central part of who I am trying to be. This driver violated everything that I stand for in a very big way. Although there was no physical injury, I have a hard time recalling times I have hurt worse than that night.

The ride home from there seemed to take forever. I thought a lot about that driver. Although his actions were intentional and aimed directly at me personally, there are how many people on the streets every day contributing the same deadly gases and particulate matter to the air I breath? Are they not also taking a direct stand against everything I stand for?

Here comes the analogy. It may seem like a big step, but it was one of the first things I thought of upon arriving at home. The feeling that I had of being completely violated by a person taking intentional steps against things that are a central part of who I am were quite similar to the feelings that I have every year at Christmas and other occasions throughout the year. I am trying to make the smallest impact as possible on the earth. I am trying to teach my children the value of nature and relationships and people rather than stuff. That is a difficult in a world where advertisements are nearly impossible to avoid.

This is hard to say because it is contrary to the beliefs of many of my family members and friends who are very important in my life, and whose generosity I appreciate immensely, but I have to say it so that they can better know who I am. Every Christmas I feel like I just got my face filled with diesel smoke. I stand for simplicity, yet we get packages from all over the country filled with stuff that we have successfully kept out of our home the rest of the year. We love the thought, we appreciate the generosity, we recognize it is "just" tradition, but it goes against those principles that we cherish most in our lives. It should be known that we don't have anything against gifts (although it wouldn't be the end of the world not to get gifts). It is "stuff" that we have a problem with. Plants for our home or garden, donations in our name to charitable organizations, or toys that the boys could go give to those in need would be gifts that really meant something to us.

I think that part of the problem is that we have two kids that are the only grand kids and great-grand kids for all but one set of great-grandparents. Around New Years, my wife and I contemplated sending a letter to all relatives saying that we were going to do a gift free year as a way of showing our kids that life isn't about material gifts. We didn't, in large part because our relatives are distant and gifts are ways that our kids can remember them and we think that's important. One of the big things that I struggle with is the fact that I don't get to buy my kids gifts. The Mugwump is at a point where I can see that he should have a certain toy that I enjoyed growing up. I know that he would enjoy it and it would be less than $10 for me to get it for him. It would be a meaningful gift given to fill a known void that would provide a means for us to play together. I won't buy it, for the same reason I have restrained from buying him a gift the last four years. He gets enough "stuff" from everyone else and he doesn't need any more. Besides that I know that we don't have anywhere to put it. I wish I could have that opportunity.

Besides my religion and my family, today I have written about those things that matter most to me in my life. I hope that nobody took offense. I would also be interested to know what others who try to live simply do to combat this problem.

12 comments:

jpu said...

its always guys in trucks who seem to resent me on the bike and try to assert something obvious, like "my truck makes me tougher than you on your bike." and since that is obvious i can agree to it, but they feel compelled to squeeze me between the road and the curb, which happened last week. i pass them at the stop light then they get real close when the catch up and honk or glare or give me the one finger salute. it makes me really mad, but i simply smile and forgive them.
God is good
jpu

Mini-Me said...

I know the feeling.

I have had people throw apple cores at me while riding down the street. I did manage to track them down at a local high school and paid the Principal a little visit. He was not impressed and I got a somewhat contrite but very poorly written apology note from them. They were also SUV drivers.

I also understand your thoughts about Christmas. Kids don't understand value. We have found that the simplest toys generally get the most playtime. LEGO is great because it stimulates fantastic creativity.

We have taken to purchasing gifts through Compassion International for communities in developing nations. They have a whole catalogue of things that you can buy that make a real difference for people.

Mini-Me, for Vertigo.

Anonymous said...

I too have felt a little pain from jerks like this while riding my bike here in Ohio. I applaud your ability to not react to their provocations like they would like.

I have been reading your blog for a while now and I am truly impressed with your committment and dedication. I am just beginning my journey to becoming more sustainable and start leaving behind some of the trappings of the modern consumerism. I would encourage you to keep doing what you're doing and remember that you aren't changing your life for some miscreants in a duellie, you're changing for yourself and your family. You will be the better for it.

Anonymous said...

I have had people roll down their window and threaten to run me over. So far no one has acted on their words. But perhaps some day someone will.

I've thought about that alot and decided that I would rather die doing what I love to do and what I believe in, then be safe and give up cycling. But that is my personal choice.

As for the gifts, my family feels that my beliefs are eccentricities and fads and thoughtlessly or consciously undermine them. I think the trick is to couch the words in a form that they understand. So, for example, with far flung family, would it make sense to suggest to them that they take the money they spend on gifts and put it towards the cost of a visit to the children? Or if a personal visit is not in the cards, perhaps greetings and good wishes by video/DVD? Explain to them that you want your children to associate with them, their face, their voice, their expressions, not to associate a specific toy with their name. It might not work, but have you got anything to lose by trying that tack?

Emily said...

I am sorry to hear you had a bad experience on your bike. I know there is a lot of hostility towards cyclists, especially around here when they seem to take over all of the roads and block traffic. It can be tedious, but for someone to target your specifically is ridiculous and dangerous. Be safe!

I admire your tenacity, as well as your determination to make cities easily commutable by other means of transportation. If I had the choice, I would definately chose to ride my bike rather than drive a car. Bye the way...your BYU professor was quoted in the Seattle paper yesterday about the new health insurance based on physical excerise. Cool stuff!

As for gifts.....take this with a grain of salt. I don't want to offend you or your awesome wife, but these are my thoughts. (If I had my own kids I might feel differently), but I suspect that your kids aren't going to be spoiled to the point that they won't be Christ like if they recieve gifts. The most important thing that will determine their attitudes is the examples of their parents and from what I can tell, your choice of a simple lifestyle is helping them grow into fine young men.

However, I think it would be a mistake to reject presents from relatives simply because you don't want them for your kids. Its important for the relatives to feel included in your life, and this is how they show their affection. To tell them to cut off the gifts will hurt their feelings, and possibly damage an eternal relationship. Some people don't have other means to share their affection, and if this is the best they can do, I would encourage you to consider the positive consequences of their actions.

I've known very rich families with kids who can have everything but still understand the value of what they have. The most impressive behavior came when those rich kids who had everything believed in sharing without reservation. As a result, I was able to enjoy things I never would have because I was poor. When I was with the rich kids, their generosity allowed me to enjoy things I never would have been able to as a poor kid. I cherished my friends who had more than I had but didn't mind sharing.

Your boys are two of the sweetest and most loving boys I know. They have excellent parents who have shown them how to be compassionate and loving. I would worry more about the influence of outside forces than the generosity of loved ones who send gifts.

If you send Caden to school, you may have more to worry about when he learns entitlement and to be self absorbed and compete against others for praise and attention from his teachers and peers. He's NOT going to learn entitlement from your family and relatives. He's going to learn it outside the home.

I love you Sans!

Emily's Mom said...

Your story of assault made me feel sad and sick. The driver of the truck was a bully, and I have never been able to understand bullies, but I know they have been around forever. What kind of pain induces a person to do injury to a stranger? It's so sad. I'm sorry it happened to you.

Your thoughts about gifts reminded me of a Christmas we experienced when Emily was a little girl. We were particularly broke that year and so I was happily looking forward to the simplest of Christmases, with very little in the way of presents. Then, someone from church came by with a box of gifts. There were multiple toys for each of our children, all tacky and commercial and cheap. I was terribly disappointed and felt robbed, and yet I felt I had to show appreciation. It was a strange experience.

Through the years we kept our gift-giving simple, often giving toys to the family to be shared, rather than to individuals. I am a great believer in the importance of books and toys for children, but they need to be of enduring quality, encouraging imagination and an appreciation for beauty and the truly good things of life, such as family relationships. Another of my daughters and her husband also value quality playthings, and have helped relatives by directing them to a wish list of acceptable toys which they have chosen and posted on Kaboodle.com.

I read the account of Laura Ingall's Christmas to my children every year during the holidays. For me, it was a highlight of the season to recall Laura's delight at the reception of a single penny on Christmas morning. It reminded me of the wonders of childhood, and the magic of gifts, without succumbing to Madison Avenue and its dictates.

I believe that the toys my children played with were great aids to them in becoming the intelligent adults they are today. The right kind of books and toys helped them to appreciate what truly mattered in life. The things created by men can be good--after all, Jesus was a carpenter, and I like to think that he crafted a few toys as part of his work. We just need to remember what "things" are given to us for, to enhance and enrich the elements of life which truly matter most.

Anonymous said...

Re: pickup drivers "smoking" cyclists. It isn't personal, unfortunately. In fact it is because the driver doesn't see a person that they're able to act as they do.

It happens to me here a fair bit, though rarely when I'm commuting in town. Traffic is often too heavy to allow a clean getaway, and they're basically cowards. They're the same children who would throw a velvet ant into a cup of water to hear it scream as it drowned. They beat up freshmen as seniors in high school. They loved the hazing rituals in their military unit. Their definition of a moral actor is so narrow that they cannot see a human being outside of their windshield. Just another plaything at their mercy, placed there for a passing amusement. I don't know how to get them to extend their empathy beyond the cab of their pickup truck. I don't really try. Once a few members of their family start getting around by bicycle it will normalize their perception of cycling, and they'll hopefully grow up a bit.

Until then, I am thankful I'm not confined in such a cramped moral universe, and use the opportunity to control my own anger, with varying degrees of success.

Sasquatch said...

At least on the surface of this blog, you're living out a dream life to me. Going into a sweet career field, the whole carfree thing, raising great kids. Keep it up!

Laurel-Anne said...

About the gifts... we have decided to buy our kids tools instead of toys, but our definition of tools is pretty broad. We buy art tools (paper, paint, scissors), music tools (harmonicas, recorders, shakers, drums), mind-building tools (books, puzzles, games, lego, k'nex), science tools (magnifiers, thermometers, magnets, small pets), fishing tools (rods, tackle, tackle boxes), gardening tools (small but real), flashlights, construction tools (hammer, wrench, tape measure... all real but small), fitness tools (balls, bikes, skateboards, trampoline).

For the most part, the kids play with their tools, rather than use them properly (as in, how an adult would want them used), but I believe that play is learning, and the kids naturally do exactly what they need to do in order to learn.

We can then accept toys from others in the spirit they were given, and every so often, especially before Christmas, we go through the toys and give away most of them to teach the kids generosity and to make room for the next round. We don't keep something just because it was a gift from cousin-x, we pass it along so someone else can enjoy a gift, too.

TV Free said...

As I was outside weeding today, I looked up every time I heard a big truck and thought, are you the one that tried to run my husband off the road? Grrrr.

As far as gifts go, I don't have a problem with my kids receiving gifts. I do have problems with stuff, for many reasons, many of which can be found at www.newdream.org. I want my kids to be happy, but I don't think that happiness comes from accumulating more things. Yes, it is fun to get that package in the mail or go to the toy store and be able to but anything you want, but what are your most fond childhood memories? Some of mine are building a fort in the blackberry bushes behind my house, exploring the woods in the neighbor's yard, visiting with my gradparents every week (yes, we went to the mall - do I remember anything I got? no. do I remember the time spent together? yes.)

The reason we got rid of our TV is because I wanted to experience more with my children. It makes me sad when I see kids with things to entertain them and their parents right next to them, oblivious to their existence and talking on the phone, doing their nails, whatever. It's all about time and personal experience.

Wow, what a rant!

Thomas said...

Ah, yes. This has really only happened to me once.

Around Christmas last year, I was riding home from our bike club's "Tacky Christmas Lights Tour" at abvout 10:30, riding through a rather nice rural neighborhood, when I heard a horn honking behind me. I looked back, and there was an older Mustang, headlights off, right on my tail. A second or two after I looked, he flipped on his brights and floored it. I simply went off the road (not much danger there, it was pretty smooth), and got back on after he was gone.

About 45 seconds later, he comes zooming by the other way, yelling something at me again.

He must have thought I was someone he knows. Someone whose name rhymes with "Ucker".

Margaret said...

That's why it is so scary to ride a bike around here; you can imagine the traffic and number of idiots. We have had that same conversation about gifts with all our relatives; it didn't do any good. So, we just talk to the girls about what we think and believe. Neither one of them is spoiled.