There I was, on my cream colored 7-speed bike, pedaling my typical route. Turning a corner, I was cut off-a black Kia came within inches of me. The driver was on his way to the stoplight in some kind of hurry, so that’s where I saw him next.
Once the light turned green, he flew past me yet again, again with far more speed than was necessary, again cutting into my lane without a concern for my safety. Naturally, another red light waited for him ahead.
Finally, there he sat, caught by yet another red light at 9th and Mission. After all his racing and lane changes, I quietly rolled up next to him on my bicycle. And I mustered my courage and knocked on his window. As I did, I noticed the Uber sticker on the windshield. This guy probably lives far away from here and he’s in town to make a hot dollar getting San Franciscans to their lunch appointments, I thought to myself.
Mind you, I have done this before. It wasn’t my first time politely [seriously-I really try to be straightforward with people!] asking someone to slow down, quietly pleading on behalf of families and pedestrians and cyclists for drivers to lay off the gas pedal. The last time I asked was right in front of the building where we live. It was a young guy in a white Ford Mustang. He mumbled something to me, then when the light turned green he was off to the races again.
This time was different.
When I knocked on his window, my ring incidentally made contact. Without meaning it to, my knock likely sounded like a metallic cling from inside the car.
And then it happened.
As I sat on my bike, I could see the man inside angrily put his late model Kia into park. He stormed over to me, cursing. At this point, I was immediately reminded of my work at Pine Rest caring for adolescents from shattered homes. I have been assaulted a number of times before, just never in a situation quite like this.
“Whad’ you do to my f*ckin’ car man? I oughta f*ckin’ kick your @ss,” he bellowed, raging his way toward me. Caught in an awkward physical position yet unsure how to respond I simply stood over my bike. Before I knew it, he was in my face-and he was a lot bigger than me. His punch thankfully turned into a shove and he bowled me over backwards, and I collapsed on my bike. I didn’t expect to need my helmet while standing on my 7-speed, but hey-I’m not complaining.
Gathering myself up from the heap on the ground that I had momentarily become, I formed a response. I was angry, but I did my best to follow through with what I genuinely felt compelled to say. “Listen, I’m sorry man, I think my ring tapped your window. I didn’t mean for that to happen. But you almost hit me three different times. Please, slow down. That’s all I’m asking you. Families live here-kids too. You can go to jail for hitting someone, and I seriously don’t want that for you.”
As I said this, I realized a small group had formed on the sidewalk behind me. No doubt we were a spectacle on an already tense corner, Mission and 9th. A tough looking black guy came over and suggested to the driver, “hey man, you don’t wanna do this, why don’t you just breathe for a second.” A woman in traffic said, “man, you get back in that car and get goin’!”
I couldn’t believe myself. I couldn’t believe the situation. Somehow I was verbally deescalating a potentially disastrous situation. At the same time, I had fostered support from folks who had watched the incident play itself out.
After my impassioned request for him to slow down, he got back in his car. I stayed, letting the gravity of the moment sink in. Moments later, he rolled down his window. “You ok man?” he asked humbly. “You just about hit me three different times, then you knocked me off my bike!” came my response, almost as unexpectedly as my initial, gentler words. “Yeah, and I thought about it and I’m the one in the wrong,” he answered, shockingly apologetic. “Please, man, slow down ok? I’ve got a little toddler son and my wife is pregnant with our second. Just slow down-seriously.” “Alright man, I hear ya.” We shook hands through the open window, looking each other straight in the eyes. And he drove off.
And, walking my bike, I proceeded to announce to the curbside spectators that the show was over.
Go ahead and make your judgment about whether I should tap on car windows-that’s fine. It’s a small thing that I occasionally do to seek after peace and safety in my neighborhood, and it’s not the point of the story.
As a Christian, husband, father, and pastor, I’m now reflecting on my own actions and the bigger picture. Clearly this guy overreacted after I made the mistake of letting my ring tap his window. And I stand behind what I said to him yesterday.
I don’t often use stories from my own life as examples of doing the right thing. Usually I’m the butt of the joke and the one learning the lesson. Read any of my blog posts or listen to any of my sermons and you’ll notice this to be the case. But this time, I really felt like I did the right thing. No, not the ring-against-the-window part. That was my bad-and I faced the consequences.
What I did right was answering gently. The ancient words of Proverbs 15:1 are right: a gentle answer does indeed turn away wrath. Had I spoken harsh words, I would have surely stirred up more anger within a harried motorist.
But the more I reflect on the experience, the more I realize my response didn’t really come from me. Not the me who has got into fights and bullied other kids in junior high. Not the me who was suspended from school numerous times before coming to a saving faith in Jesus when I was 13. Not the me who is still repenting of his judgmental attitude toward certain drivers.
No. I’m not some vigilant, neighbor-conscious hero cyclist. But my unexpected response is reminding me that Jesus really has changed my life. In 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul asks a question: “…do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you…?”
Yeah, he is, and making a massive difference. He’s taking me on a journey toward my true self, toward the person I could be.
And he’s helping me to see that-and give him credit for it too.