On a walk one day, a car barreled around the bend in the road toward downtown Portland, seeming to accelerate when the driver spied my husband and I in the crosswalk. That particular section of Burnside Street is typically busy but on that Saturday morning the way had been clear when we stepped out. There was no disputing, the car was traveling fast. There was no disputing, we were in the crosswalk.
When the car reached the intersection, the driver laid on the horn even though we had cleared that lane. The sharp horn sliced through the sleepy neighborhood, an angry sound the likes of which make people worry about what is coming next. The echo of the horn lingered in the air for the longest time as we walked onward. The incident was so disjointed, so unnecessary, as to leave us feeling accosted.
For myself, I’m unlearning an anger response in situations like that. My father would become angry and rant when something startled him or when things didn’t go as expected. Many years ago I realized I got angry at times like that, too. According to the researchers at the Heart Math Institute, the brain is a pattern-matching device and it will search for a familiar response to unexpected situations. Since I am aware of the legacy of the anger response in my family, I was watching for it after the loud horn.
I’ll admit, I did flip off the driver of the car. Turns out my husband did too, though I couldn’t see that because he was behind me.
I was pleasantly surprised, and my anger response was limited to the flipping off behavior. By the time my arm came back to my side, I was already into observation and wondering, what is going on for that person that upsets them so? Maybe they see themselves as entitled to the road and anyone who obstructs the way is fair game for anger? Who knows? The point is, I don’t.
By then, we were a block away and I was not stuck as I might have been in the past.
The incident did bring to mind the roller skating we used to do as children. Miraculously, there were few collisions. Skaters timed their turns and watched for others. Sped up or slowed down to avoid hitting or startling someone who looked less secure or less aware. It was a group effort, a true community event. Sometimes the skaters were classmates, but often they were strangers showing up for the free skate periods. Often there were no teachers or parents around, and skaters worked together for the effort of having a good time.
The honking-get-out-of-my-way incident also reminded me of walking through a busy airport where it is typical to be in a rush and a similar behavior happens as on the skating rink floor. The passengers briskly move to departures or from arrivals, getting to the boarding gate or back to the car to get home, working together to time their movements in such a way as to keep moving so they can continue the path of movement without having to stop or disrupt someone else.
Usually, when everyone can keep moving and the flow of traffic moves unimpeded, skaters or passengers or shoppers go on their way and life feels good.
The incident on that morning of the blaring horn made me think of the ways we can build a broader coalition with our neighbors and fellow citizens. We can behave in non-aggressive ways. We can take turns. We can let up on the gas for a nano second and let someone cross in front of us rather than treating them as if they were a pawn on a chess board or a target in a video game.
We can let people change lanes in front of us. We can let that hassled mom at the grocery store with small children go ahead of us in the check out line. We can watch our timing more and take more turns.
It doesn’t take much. And every little bit of that matters.
My guess is our lives will feel richer. If nothing else, our days will be quieter.