Stand Your Ground

January the first started out sunny.  The temperature climbed into the low fifties, and I found myself thinking, in between muttering under my breath about having to count this guitar in my inventory again and that trumpet costing way too much to still be sitting on the shelf, that it would be a good day to take a group bicycle ride.

The note had come the week prior and was encouraging in its wording.

“January 1, 2014 at noon…all riders welcome.  We will start out with an easy 8 mile loop…”

There was more, about riding at whatever speed you wanted and going only as far as you wanted.  It seemed an attractive invitation.

Eight miles?  I can do that. Everyone was welcome.  I want to be part of everyone.

I’ll be there!

Sunny and fifty-two degrees.  Nearly thirty brave souls showed up.  The first half mile was great.  We took up the whole westbound lane of the main avenue out of the downtown area.  I remember wondering momentarily if there were any cars behind us.  Only momentarily.

We had the right of way.

We did.  It says so.  Right there in the Arkansas Code, Annotated (whatever that means).

“Every person riding a bicycle…upon a highway, shall have all the rights and all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle…”

The lane was ours for the taking.  No one could force us to give it up.  Nearly thirty strong, we stood up for ourselves and didn’t even look back.  I couldn’t tell you if there were any angry drivers back there or not.

I didn’t care.  Well–we didn’t care–and I was part of we.

After that ecstatic, power-infused half-mile, we came to the first major hill in the “easy 8 mile loop”.  It wasn’t that big of a deal, only about 65 feet of elevation gain in a block.  I got up the hill just fine, thank you.

Then we turned to the south.

Did I say it was sunny and in the fifties that afternoon?  I may have forgotten to mention the sixteen mile-per-hour wind blowing from the south.  And, the road keeps going uphill.

Already a bit winded from climbing the hill, the blustery breeze in our faces soon separated the real riders from the amateurs.  The riders in the front began to pull away from me (and a number of others behind me).  Before I knew it, I was virtually by myself in the middle of the lane struggling to catch up with the front-runners in this easy 8 mile loop.

I heard a vehicle approaching from the rear.  Remembering my Arkansas Code, Annotated (of course), I stayed where I was.  For about five seconds.

Right of way!  I have the right of way!

The horn honked once.

I moved over.

It’s easier to stand your ground when you have twenty-eight or nine other zealots around you, isn’t it?

The huge diesel pickup blasted past me, its driver gesturing with his hand as if wondering what in the world these stupid little people were thinking of, riding on his road.

“I have all the rights applicable to any vehicle!”  I said the words aloud.

I feel sure he didn’t hear.  I think perhaps, he didn’t care.  He didn’t even slow at all.

I glanced ahead to the larger group, about fifteen cyclists strong, still just over a block or so ahead of me, and wondered what they would do.  He sped up behind them and honked his horn.  Perhaps he assumed they would do the same thing each of the single riders, such as I, had done.

No one moved over.

He honked again.  And, then again.  Repeatedly laying on his horn, to no avail, the frustrated driver rode behind the bikes going fifteen miles per hour.  Finally, the angry man pulled into the other lane of traffic and went around them, still gesturing angrily.  I don’t think those gestures meant the same thing the earlier one had.

As the sun went behind a cloud, the easy eight miles turned into a torturous seventeen for me, but that’s not really part of this conversation.

I do have a few questions, though.

I’m not sure if there really are any right answers.

Why is it easier to insist on our rights when we’re in a large group?  Well, perhaps that’s not such a hard question to answer.  The more salient side of that question may be: Why is it so hard to do the same thing when we’re the lone dissenter?

Mr. Shakespeare suggests that the better part of valor is discretion.  He is not wrong, although the original quote in context reveals a coward in battle.  In our more common speech, we would say we need to pick our battles.  There is truth to that thought also.  But…

But–I wonder if I haven’t used the word discretion to excuse cowardice in myself more than a few times.  And I’m not talking about my little ride down the middle of the lane on New Year’s Day anymore, either.  You probably already guessed that, didn’t you?

I want to stand up for the right things at the right times.  And, not just when I’m surrounded by allies.

I want to defend the defenseless even when there is no one around to defend me.

I would like to be the brave knight who rescues the damsel in distress.  I want to do that even when my horse has thrown me before running off and my suit of armor is at the cleaners.  On foot and unprotected, I want to be a protector.

Oh.  And, one more thing.  I want to know the difference between a fight for justice and a brawl for selfish pride.  I have a long history of picking the wrong fights and living to regret them.

I think that I am slowly learning these things.  There are times when I wish I could have had the advantage of age when I was much younger.  My path would surely have been easier.  Or perhaps, I would have been just as stubborn.  We’ll never know, will we?

I do remember my father telling of the man who was run over at the street corner as he walked in front of an oncoming car.  In the hospital, he was still insisting that pedestrians always have the right of way.

It turns out you can still get run over when you have the right of way.  Even if you can quote the Arkansas Code, Annotated.

Who knew?

“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”
(Reinhold Niebuhr ~ American theologian ~ 1892-1971)

“The better part of Valour, is Discretion; in the which better part, I have saved my life.”
(Falstaff from Henry IV ~ William Shakespeare ~ English poet/playwright ~ 1564-1616)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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