Saturday was a pleasant day. Warm, yet not the sort of heat we had endured lately. A friend of mine and I decided to walk on the Stowe Recreation Path. How the trees have grown since I was last there! Life has a way of taking us away from familiar settings and back to them over time, with a new perspective.
My friend happens to be a bit of a buffoon. In fact, I find he is a good example of one who has the ability to bring a joyful perspective to daily encounters. He had not walked on the bike path before and appreciated the fact that cyclists courteously announce approaching behind other path users by calling out “On your right” or “On your left”. In his usual cheerful manner, my friend decided it would add an interesting touch if we were to introduce ourselves to others in the same fashion in daily, formal encounters: “Hello, my name is Jack, I am on your right”. We laughed.
Though we were merely walking, he playfully applied his newly-created greeting strategy as we continued along the path, greeting every oncoming person with, “Hello, I am on your left, isn’t this a gorgeous day?” Everyone responded with a chuckle and friendly greeting. Kids and parents thought it was hilarious. A few people stopped for a great little chat… and then…
A rather athletic-looking gentleman approached at high speeds behind a more moderately moving lady cyclist. Since we happened to be at the same level as she, he had to stop, promptly. My joyful friend greeted them both: “Hello, I am on your left”. The lady smiled. The cyclist responded (his words): “I know you are on my left, you moron!” Needless to say, that put an end to my friend’s cheerful demeanor. But it got us thinking.
At first we were angry and appalled. How could someone carry so much anger on such a glorious day? And that was just it. The man was probably enjoying the day as much as we were, having a grand time, riding his own groove as he rode his bicycle at high speeds, until a sudden obstacle, with a wise remark to boot, stopped him in his tracks like a needle scratching a vinyl record.
My friend and I wondered if perhaps we had failed to apply critical recreation path etiquette rules. I looked it up. Stowe Rec Path Rule #3 states: “LOOK out for pedestrians, joggers and children at play and yield to them”.
In less than a minute, three strangers on a beautiful, tree-lined path experienced a sort of virtual wreck. In another context, our encounter with the flying stranger might have been altogether different. What thoughts did we interrupt? Had he been working overtime for weeks and was finally enjoying some freedom? Had he just received fantastic news and needed to feel the weightlessness of the moment? We’ll never know. We bring our baggage wherever we go.
The recreation path has no doubt witnessed its share of clashes and crashes, but these are merely exceptions to the rule. People from all over the world walk and bike here and return, every year, with great anticipation of a morning or afternoon stroll in a place where they feel safe, free, welcome and in an environment that was designed with obvious care and integrity. This is all that matters. Friends sometimes cross paths millions of times before becoming friends and strangers who clash on the way, for whatever reason, sometimes meet for the first time on a different path or actually share a common path without ever knowing it.