Ahead of me, on a single-lane street in town, a bicyclist was meandering along, seeming oblivious to me behind him. I sounded my horn, startling the young man back into present time. He pulled over to let me by.
I stopped nearby and another young fellow stomped up to my car. I rolled the window down, and he yelled, "Did you just honk at that cyclist? He has a right to the road! Who do you think you are, you f–––king psychopath!"
"Well, Happy New Year to you too!" I sputtered, startled and shaken. Then wondered, was I "right" in my idea of road courtesy—apart from the guy's horrid manner?
I saw a local cop getting into his patrol car, and approached him for reassurance and sympathy before I headed home. I thought: How quick we are to judge one another, to assume the worst—to other each other. I brought this topic to my mindfulness class: how we alienate ourselves with myths and assumptions about those perceived as wrongly different, as opposing us. Conversely, if I give myself a chance to interact, bring along "beginner's mind"—curiosity, open-mindedness, harmlessness—surprising and evolving things can happen.
The morning after my class, I took a nature walk as the first seasonal rains were subsiding. Walking from the opposite direction was a young man, eyes glued to his phone screen—a habit I tend to disparage.
I stared a bit. He noticed, I asked, "What could possibly be worth more than tuning into the beautiful natural world around us?" His eyes twinkled disarmingly and he nodded in recognition. A conversation started, beginning with "Ben" voicing his concerns with screen time for his three kids. We walked and talked and discussed basic values and MO's for living. We discovered a shared passion for naming life's holy questions, and that we had different ideas about where answers originate. Ninety minutes sailed by, thoroughly enjoyed.
Ben was a tech-savvy, devout Christian and student of the Bible. I'm a metaphysical, contemplative Jewish crone who doesn't own a smartphone. Had he not elected to walk with me, or had I rejected having a stranger come along, we would have remained wholly other to one another. After our conversation, his wife arrived to drive him to their motel room—he works temporary construction in the area. We exchanged contact information, vowing to stay in touch.
Ben and I returned to our very different lives, but I'll always remember our shared fervor. To honor that, I resolve in 2019 to stop, breathe, observe my biases—and proceed with more humanity, equity, curiosity and delight.
Marcia Singer, MSW, teaches mindfulness meditation locally through the Love Arts Foundation in Santa Rosa.