Making Life and Death Pacts with Strangers

Blog Published: April 1, 2015
By Sister Julie

1:03 p.m. As I look in my helmet mirror at the traffic coming behind me, feel the WHOOSH of the car driving by so close, and scan the horizon for cars turning off or onto the road, I am acutely aware that my life is in the hands of total strangers.

Commuting to work by bicycle is a great gift. It's doing my part for God's good creation by removing one gas-using, carbon-emitting car from the road for a little while, and it's also good for me because biking delights me and helps keep me healthy.

As I negotiate bike lanes, road debris, traffic lights and signs, pedestrians and drivers, I'm grateful for years of biking experience and technical know-how. I do regular cleanings and repair on my bike, develop my biking skills, and never miss an opportunity to ride! All these help keep me safe on the road and make for an awesome riding experience!

But one thing I can't control is everybody else on the road.

Each and every day I commute, I am making a pact with total strangers about my life and theirs. Each and every day I have to trust not only myself and my bike, but I have to trust drivers whose split-second unawareness could result in a serious accident in which I wouldn't stand a chance. Ghost bikes are real and an ever present reminder to me of how precarious life on the road is for cyclists and for others on the road.

As I ride off the main drag and into the neighborhoods, I permit myself to think more about the startling realization that I am entrusting my life to a bunch of strangers. I find it almost impossible, especially given all that I do to ensure my own safety on a bike. Are those drivers' licenses up to date? Are they tired? Are they texting someone? Are they upset after a bad business meeting? Is someone else in the car vying for their attention? Are their wheels aligned? My mind races thought all the possible things that could result in their car veering into me. Clearly I am not in control!

I could of course not commute by bike. That could solve a lot of problems, but the reality is that so much of what we do relies on strangers. Even driving to work would have the same problems though being on a bike puts me in a way more vulnerable situation. Isn't it curious how much of our life relies on not just the kindness of strangers but on their common sense, driving skills, awareness, choice of words, etc.? I guess I hadn't really thought about this before, or about how great the consequences can be.

I think immediately of my experience of community as a Catholic sister. I know that everything I do, say, think affects my life with my sisters, the mission entrusted to us by God, and our very relationship with God. We have thrown our lot in with one another. In some ways, as human beings and indeed as creatures of this world, we have each thrown our lot in with one another, human and animal, rock and plant. Whether stranger or friend, we are in this together. How trusting we must be to wake up and welcome, truly welcome, another day!

Oh I wish I had more answers than questions, but my lunch break isn't that long and so neither is my time to bike and reflect! As Holy Week comes to its fullness, perhaps my best prayer this week is that I can be the best stranger I can be recognizing that my every choice can bring encouragement or discouragement, consolation or desolation, life or death.

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