Heard on the grapevine

I was once again considering what to write about when I decided to go line dancing. Why? Well, why not? There was a group that meets weekly in my local park and I decided to join them. The sun was shining and, in any case, I like to support community initiatives, especially those that are inclusive and accessible for everyone. And anyway, it’s actually kind of fun.

I know line dancing has a bit of a reputation for appealing to a certain age group, but really, it can be for everyone. The moves are simple steps – though surprisingly easy to mess up, and it’s great exercise and comes with a lot of laughs. So, it was an enjoyable way to spend an hour and I met some nice people too.

I think we often put labels on many things and dismiss them outright without giving them a chance. In our internet-obsessed world, where everything is on display, we urgently need to know the details of anything we get involved in – be that an event or even a person. We’ve become accustomed to pre-screening everything, even though the reality is often different. It’s like we’ve lost the art of taking a chance. And with so much on offer, we’re afraid of wasting time, or choosing badly, or do something that will make us look like a fool, or conversely, not be suitably Instagrammable.

I mean, life is for living. Let’s take a chance. The real world – not the one filtered online  –  is full of wonderous, as well as ridiculous and heartbreaking moments. But it’s there for us to take hold of. Isn’t one of the purposes of life to try things out and learn, even from our mistakes?

 The pandemic forced has many of us to do things in different ways than what we were used to and as the world opens up again, we should continue to exercise that muscle and try things out of our comfort zone. Who knows what may come out of it? You might meet some interesting people or learn a new skill, or just have a bit of fun. And now back to seeing what else I can hear on the grapevine…

Slow Down and See the Earth

The other day while out on my bike, I was hit by a car. Not badly, thank goodness, as it just clipped me, but yet another calamity on my bicycle, the third in as many months – third time unlucky? It occurred while I was crossing at a pedestrian light. I saw the car waiting to turn right, or so I thought, but the driver just kept going and plowed into me.

My bike actually saved me, as the car mainly hit my back wheel and I managed to remain upright, uninjured. I was so shocked I just froze, while the driver got out of the car to apologize. As I seemed to be alright – and I was standing in the middle of an intersection – I just carried on.

I was only two blocks from my mom’s place, but it was enough pedaling for me to realize that something wasn’t right with the back wheel. It turns out it was buckled and needed to be replaced – a hefty misfortune, indeed.

There are so many upsetting things about this episode, including my not pulling myself together enough to get the driver’s details. Of course, the whole incident could have been a lot worse, but it could have been better too – not having occurred in the first place.

The truth is that cycling has become even more dangerous in this city, as many drivers are in a rush and simply don’t look where they’re going. One of my main joys of cycling is the ability to go at a slower pace, to take in what’s around, to stop check out a Little Free Library on the sidewalk or to pet a dog.

It’s this slow-paced enjoyment of our environment that’s constantly being eroded, most notably in our car culture, with many drivers so wrapped in their own bubbles, that they’re dangerously detached from the world outside their cars. Pedestrians, cyclists and animals are the ones that suffer the adverse consequences when this disconnect leads to erratic driving.

With Earth Day around the corner, it’s a timely message that we should all be more mindful, more aware of our environment and to slow down, stop and take a look before proceeding further. Apart from the countless benefits of being more present in our surroundings, it can literally make the difference between life and death.

Taken for a ride

I was musing about what to write in this week’s blog when my bike was snatched. Perhaps not intentionally, but there was definitely some mal intent going on. Let me explain.

The public buses in this city allow you to place a bike on a rack at the front while you ride on board. This has been a real lifesaver for me, especially for uphill journeys or to travel to far-flung parks. I was headed to such a park last week, en-route to a hospital CT scan, in an attempt to assuage some of my anxiety about the procedure.

The trouble began at a stop where drivers were changing shifts. We had been there for some minutes, so with a sense of rising anxiety, I got off the bus to ask a couple of the drivers when we would be departing. One of them said the bus would leave when the driver arrived. I turned around to see that a different driver had got on the bus and shut the door. I banged on the door for him to let me in and he wouldn’t open it. He pointed to the bus stop, directly in front, so I scooted there, only to watch him drive off – with my bicycle in tow.

Although he probably didn’t know it was my bike, there’s really no excuse for him not letting me on the bus. Watching my bike disappear rendered me instantly apoplectic. My plans were in tatters and furthermore, I LOVE this bike.

After attempting many ways to find a solution, eventually, the driver of the next bus (who had witnessed the event) called his supervisor and it was arranged that he would drive me to a stop 20 minutes up the road, where I was to wait for the same bus to come back round again. Nearly an hour after it whizzed out of my sight, I was once again reunited with my beloved bike.

Unfortunately, upon my seeking an explanation for his actions, the driver was unrepentant and completely indifferent. I told him I was going to report him, which I did later that day. I’ve yet to see any results from my impassioned account, but I still feel it is important to report any kind of unacceptable behaviour like his to try and stop it happening to other people.

Speaking of behaviour, while I confess that I didn’t conceal my distress very well and was crying and wailing a fair bit, on no occasion, – on either bus, or waiting endlessly at the bus stop, did any of the passengers approach or ask what was wrong. I mean, really? I know that this is a big city and people are mistrustful of anything out of ordinary, but I was clearly not dangerous, just upset.

 Maybe it was harder to look away before we had phones to disappear into, but consider what will happen the next time the person who needs help is you. Random acts of kindness should not be noteworthy, they should be the norm. Let’s all step up and try and show that bit of extra care and consideration for one another, whether in our jobs or in our everyday lives.

Meeting the energy

I consider myself to be a good judge of character, and most people give off an energy when you first meet them, so that you can usually tell from initial impressions if you’re likely to get on or not. However, I had a few incidents this week which gave me pause for thought.

The first was while I was walking in the woods. I encountered a man who, like me, was looking for birds, but, unlike most birders, seemed very taciturn and self-contained. Usually, I exchange greetings with fellow bird enthusiasts, but as he was very much keeping to himself, I didn’t approach him. Later on, I saw him further down the path, and without preamble, he came up to me, pointed to a tree and said, quite pleasantly, ‘if you look there, you’ll see a screech owl.’ Wow, how wonderful was that! He mentioned spotting it on the way in and promptly departed, leaving me to enjoy it on my own.

Another encounter I had was at a social group outing. There was someone I had met before who was often crude and made inappropriate comments. I cringed when he sat next to me, but to my surprise, that afternoon he was very pleasant, witty, and all of his comments were PG.

There is usually more to people than the packages they come in – like onions, with layers that get peeled over time. It’s easy to make judgments about people because it’s a kind of a short cut. The problem is that our expectations of someone can get in the way of our real-life encounter and often let us down. For example, at another group outing recently, I saw some people I had chatted with many times before and they essentially blanked me. So until you have built a stronger relationship with someone, it’s probably best to shelve any preconceived expectations and just meet them where they’re at upon your next encounter.

It means that we can be open to the energy and possibilities that arise in the situation. Of course, I’m not suggested to plunge head first into scenarios that have shown themselves to be harmful or toxic. But in other settings, it can be helpful to give people a chance or to just face an experience it comes. At very least, there are always opportunities to learn something from others which can help you in your life. At best, we can have an enjoyable and maybe surprising interaction, and even the possibility of it developing into something more.