A few days ago, a cyclist just recently introduced to the sport, Joshua Edward Duncan, was struck from behind by a motorist. He suffered injuries that led to his death, and the motorist explained that she did not see him.
Duncan was 31, married, and the father of a 13-month-old infant.
In 1989, a friend and I were cycling in the northern part of the county where I live when a drunk driver hit me from behind before speeding off. I was knocked into my riding partner and suffered a shattered ankle bone. At that moment, my daughter was 3-months old—as I lay in the road, coincidentally one road over from where my sister-in-law lived.
Since a cycling friend of mine who was riding with Duncan texted me about Duncan being struck and killed, I have been unable to stop thinking of two things: back in 1989, I could have very easily lost my life, and the motorist who has not been charged (just as the hit-and-run drunk driver who hit me was never charged even though he was apprehended) explained that she did not see Duncan.
South Carolina has strong cycling laws that guarantee cyclists the right to “Share the Road” in our state, and the signs are nearly everywhere:
I have been an avid cyclist in the Upstate of SC since the early/mid-1980s, many years logging as many as 10,000 miles on roads throughout rural SC and North Carolina.
Along with being hit by the drunk driver in 1989, I have been in two other accident with cars—one in which a motorist dragged a fellow cyclist under the car for a quarter mile leaving him permanently injured.
This motorist also didn’t see us, and despite being elderly, retained his license after the accident.
I live, work, and cycle in SC—the state of my birth. And I cannot ignore that I witness everyday the hollowness of the “Share the Road” signs against the behavior of people.
SC is a stark microcosm of the U.S.—where word does not equal deed.
We in the South are quick to shout that we are pro-life, that we are a Christian people.
And then we drive while texting, we make no effort to allow merging cars onto the interstate, we behave at traffic lights as if we are the only car on the road.
I also cannot ignore that this inexcusable accident taking a young man’s life occurred within days of a local high school coming under fire for banning the U.S. flag at the traditional Friday night football game.
The uproar is a powerful but misrepresented lesson about us as people. The media and the public anger have focused on the flag being “banned,” but almost no one has confronted the real issue: students have in the past and intended at this game to use the U.S. flag to taunt Mexican students at a rival high school.
I taught high school for nearly two decades in this area, and I am not suggesting we overreact to this adolescent behavior; it happens everywhere, and in many ways, it is simply really poor behavior that is the consequence of being young.
And the school had an undeniable moral obligation to teach these young people that bullying and hatred are wrong, unacceptable.
The lesson here is not about the behavior of a few teens, but about, once again, the willingness of adults to wrap ourselves in words and symbolism while refusing to translate those ideals into behavior.
How do we teach young people lessons (do unto others) about hatred while a presidential candidate behaves the same way yet suffers no real consequences—in fact, garners support?
As an educator, parent, and coach, I have always been acutely aware of the danger of hypocrisy—and how it corrodes the authority of any adult seeking to influence young people.
In his “Lockridge: ‘The American Myth,'” James Baldwin rightfully proclaimed:
This rigid refusal to look at ourselves may well destroy us; particularly now since if we cannot understand ourselves we will not be able to understand anything.
“Share the Road” as hollow sloganism and the motorist admitting that she did not see the cyclist she struck and killed with her car—these raise a concurrent truth to Baldwin’s: the rigid refusal to see the other.
And it is destroying us—literally and figuratively.
#BlackLivesMatter is a confrontation of the fact that white America refuses to see black America and the inequities they suffer.
A presidential campaign built on slandering Mexicans as rapist and murderers; on building a wall; and on casting out Muslims—this is a rigid refusal to see ourselves and the other, and it is breeding another generation of hatred.
A couple of springs ago, a friend and I met for our weekly Tuesday evening ride on the westside of town. We rolled out early to do a warm up lap and chat.
As we rolled two-abreast down a small country road, a highway patrolman parked there and apparently monitoring speeding stepped out of his car and stopped us, telling us to ride single-file.
I politely told him that SC law is two-abreast, and he replied, “Really?”
He was neither aware of the law, nor willing to see our right to be on the road as cyclists.
Law enforcement unaware of the law, unaware of the larger concept of justice, and unwilling to see the other—this is now in front of us in disturbing ways, and this is why many people are raising voices.
And many years ago, on a Sunday morning like the one today, I was riding my bicycle from my home to my in-laws to have lunch with my family.
A car zoomed by me, nearly clipping me, swerved immediately in front of me, slowing dramatically, and then turned onto an exit ramp as I raised my hand in the “what in the world” manner (and, no, I did not offer a one-finger salute).
The car suddenly stopped on the exit ramp, and I saw clearly it was a family dressed for church, children in the back seat. The diver, a man in a nice suit, stepped out shouting profanities at me for being on the road because they had to get to church.
Punctuality for church mattered more than my life—and his children were there to witness this. I have never forgotten that moment.
“Share the Road” is about more than bicycles and cars.
It is a message to be heeded every moment: See the other in a way that is listening to the other, in a way that honors the dignity of every human being.
Driving a car as if only your life matters reveals a great deal about the driver, but the consequences are often suffered by the innocent other.
“But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America’s becoming humane and reasonable,” lamented author Kurt Vonnegut in “Cold Turkey,” adding:
For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
And in his novel, Slapstick or Lonesome No More!, Vonnegut included:
I wish that people who are conventionally supposed to love each other would say to each other, when they fight, “Please—a little less love, and a little more common decency.”
What if “common decency” were a real American value—one we not only voiced, but also practiced daily?
What if we set aside our rigid refusal to see ourselves and to see the other?
What is a people who fervently claimed to be a “Christian nation” truly began to live as such?
Yes, what if …?
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.