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May 13 2012

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On a passerby

Confession: sometimes I am secretly proud of how unaffected I am by this modern epidemic we call “road rage.” I was never very angry on the road, but now I am hard to phase, no matter the traffic or construction. I love to drive; it is my time of prayer. My time of music and of rolling skies. The whisper from the skies.

I think of myself as kind and considerate on the road. Most of the time. At least, when I can help it. I let people in, in front of me, and I let things go when they misbehave. I am nice on the road.

But the other day, I began to wonder if that was really true.

The other day, driving over the Schuylkill river, I was rudely cut off by a little blood-red and sporty-looking number, young man at the wheel glued to his cell phone as he threaded his way through the busy highway bridge. Three lanes pretty packed with cars and trucks, no real shoulder, metal on both sides, and only abyss underneath, and he ripped through us like a serrated knife, leaving behind jagged lines, brake lights, and rooster-like cries of the horns. Then he filled my cabin with exhaust and disappeared out of my life.

I did not chase him to overtake him and flash my brakes into his face. Of course. I did not even sound my horn. I did not curse in his direction. Having regained control of the car, I shook my head after him and thought the thoughts of the arrogant and impatient creature “of the fast lane,” as it were, who lived in such a hurry that safety and courtesy had become luxuries of time unaffordable. I prayed that he would learn his lesson some day without endangering himself or anyone else. I prayed that he’d be safe. I prayed he’d grow up.

I shook my head after him and I smiled. I thought I was being kind to him.

And then I had a thought. An unlikely if entirely standard hypothetical. I imagined suddenly that on the phone at that moment with this young man had been…his brother, or a doctor, or a cop. And having gotten that phone call, he was speeding forgetting all safety and all courtesy and all other things of the world toward some hospital where his mother, or his lover, or his child lay in critical condition. Or to a crime scene that had been his home only hours before. Or something else — unimagined. Urgent. Bad.

Driving is my time of prayer, my time to listen to the whisper in the sky. And suddenly, the other day, the sky was full of unknown pain that drove unknown people around me to do the things they did. And a young man in a speeding red car who was probably a spoiled kid — but maybe a grieving son. And I didn’t know.

So I stopped praying that he be good and prayed that he be well. Whatever that meant. And then, of course — we are selfish creatures after all — I stopped thinking about him and thought about myself. I don’t have road rage. But I have…road judgment, I suppose. As nice as I can be, I don’t bring love to the road.

So I’ll be working on that, then.

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1 comment

  1. Jules

    “On The Tram” by Franz Kafka
    I stand on the end platform of the tram and am completely unsure of my footing in this world, in this town, in my family. Not even casually could I indicate any claims that I might rightly advance in any direction. I have not even any defense to offer for standing on this platform, holding on to this strap, letting myself be carried along by this tram, nor for the people who give way to the tram or walk quietly along or stand gazing into shopwindows. Nobody asks me to put up a defense, indeed, but that is irrelevant.

    The tram approaches a stopping place and a girl takes up her position near the step, ready to alight. She is as distinct to me as if I had run my hands over her. She is dressed in black, the pleats of her skirt hang almost still, her blouse is tight and has a collar of white fine-meshed lace, her left hand is braced flat against the side of the tram, the umbrella in her right hand rests on the second top step. Her face is brown, her nose, slightly pinched at the sides, has a broad round tip. She has a lot of brown hair and stray little tendrils on the right temple. Her small ear is close-set, but since I am near her I can see the whole ridge of the whorl of her right ear and the shadow at the root of it.

    At that point I asked myself: How is it that she is not amazed at herself, that she keeps her lips closed and makes no such remark?

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