What can’t you see?

On Friday night I was driving home from the physio. I swung out into the main road behind a cyclist,. He was zipping along at a fine old speed, but I knew there was a sharp hill coming up, so I changed into the right lane so I could get past without putting him at risk, and without needing to slow down.

Shortly afterwards I stopped at the lights on that same hill, and although I looked around for the cyclist, I couldn’t see him, so I assumed he had turned off somewhere while I was concentrating on the road. When the lights turned green the traffic moved off, but there was a van in the left lane going super slowly, and the ageing pulsar in front of me was keeping pace with it, instead of speeding up and getting past.

My first reaction was irritation. It had been a long week. It was late. It was dark. I was tired. I wanted to get home. Why was this nufty slowing me down??

Fortunately the physio appointment had been a good one, so I was reasonably relaxed, with none of the back pain that had plagued me earlier in the week. I could afford to be magnanimous, so I refrained from leaning on the horn and instead craned to see if I could work out why the silly old pulsar was going so slowly.

Suddenly I saw the cyclist, slogging up the hill, and realised that the van behind it was getting edgy. The whole picture crystallised in an instant, and it dawned on me that the pulsar was leaving the van room to change lanes, so that it wouldn’t get trapped behind the cyclist, and perhaps put the rider at risk with its impatience.

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The van swung out in front of the pulsar, and the pulsar sped up. The car behind the van was looking twitchy, so I waited until it had pulled out in front of me before I, too, got going.

I was so grumpy with that pulsar, right up until I realised there was method in its snail-like madness. Until I saw the cyclist. And it struck me that this is a truly ordinary scenario, played out repeatedly throughout our lives. Someone does something we don’t understand, that gets in our way, and we flash out a grumpy reaction before we see the bike.

Sometimes we never know what’s going on. Sometimes the bike is invisible to us. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. There can be so much going on in other people’s lives that overflows into our own path, but is not directed at us at all. Whether it’s grumpiness, sadness, or simply something that’s slowing us down, it’s worth remembering that we never see the whole story.

If I hadn’t been so relaxed, I might well have leant on the horn – startling the cyclist and precipitating who knows what?

I hope that next time I get slowed down for reasons I don’t understand, I can remember the pulsar and the bike, and take the time to understand the situation. To give the other driver the benefit of the doubt. To assume that there’s a reason I can’t yet see. And to practice a little patience and forgiveness.

After all, I might need that forbearance myself tomorrow.

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2 thoughts on “What can’t you see?

  1. Anonymous

    Hey doc, refently you shared a memory on facebook saying that your students don’t think you’re perfect. As an ex student I can confirm that is utter nonsense, you’re the best teacher I’ve had

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