Taking the Shoulder

blue-856818_1280It was a brisk 27 degrees this morning as I took my walk around the small town I call home. The sun decided to grace the day behind some hazy January gray, and the blue that peaked in was as breezy as a Jamaican sky. My pup, a Beagle Basset mix—a Bagle, if you will—did his job and pulled me along down the road for a mile and a half.

About halfway through our jaunt, we reach a section of road that has a semi-gravely shoulder. It’s my favorite part of our walk because the crunch and skidding of rocks immediately ricochets memories of walks I used to take with my grandmother.

She lived off of a two-lane, rural highway outside of town, and I used to spend Saturday mornings with her when I was too young yet to stay home unattended (and, then, even after). We would religiously make Kraft macaroni and cheese and chocolate chip cookies before settling in to watch the same movies every single weekend. (As a parent, I now know that surely she resides in Heaven purely for this saintly repetition, always without complaint.)

On nice days, however, we’d take a walk along the highway. Since it was a rural road, there wasn’t much trafstones-69446_1280fic. The tin colored road was, at the time, newly paved, but the shoulders where we walked were gravel with alabaster chunks. As I walked today, I was reminded of an interaction that changed my small-minded, little kid view of respect.

When we would take these walks, drivers who were cognizant and careful would always veer into the left lane to avoid coming too close to us (often, considering we were an elderly woman and a small child at the time). I remarked to her, offended, that I didn’t like when the cars went over into the left lane. I felt it was rude that they thought we’d be so careless as to fall into the street and get hit. It’s as if they were driving over because they were afraid we’d do something stupid, I’d said. (Let the record show that I also liked the feel of the wind as a car zipped past. When they veered over, I couldn’t feel it.)

Instead of telling me what an idiotic thought process that was, my grandmother simply said that they didn’t do it because they were worried we’d do something stupid; they were doing it out of respect, to be careful just in case. They were respecting our existence.*

This morning I was reminded of this interaction, and I’m thankful I for that paradigm shift. I’m sure by driver’s ed I would have probably ascertained that not everyone who goes to the other side of the road is doing so because they assume pedestrians are of lesser intelligence, but as a kid I was always feeling like people didn’t think I was smart enough (I think it’s a common kid dilemma). Today, I’m reminded that many of the issues plaguing my life and the lives of many others world-wide are also because we respond to conflict assuming the opposition is doing it because they’re attempting to inflict judgment or malice.

And, often, that just isn’t so.

What I’d like to start doing, and what I hope many others will too, is getting back to my grandmother’s message: understand and show respect for existence. Often conflict arises not only when one incorrectly assumes they’re respecting another’s existence, like I did, but also when we do not feel we are being respected. Hubris often plays a role in this interplay, but not always.

In an effort to better execute this process, I think it’s best I take the shoulder for awhile and think more about the motives of others. I don’t want people to feel like they can’t express themselves (or express annoyance at others who are expressing themselves); I just want to respect their existence.

I will pray, and I will ponder. When all else fails, I will—of course—eat a cookie. Amen.

*The irony is that now I get really upset if I’m walking and a car doesn’t veer into the other lane (when available, that is — I don’t need a car accident simply because I demand veerage). On bad days I channel my inner-Midnight Cowboy and internally chastise “Hey! I’m living here!”

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