I’m a pretty outspoken gal, and I regularly wear my heart on my sleeve. I tell most people anything, and until a few years ago, I was happily toddling along in life, completely oblivious that I had a habit of interrupting.
“I was doing this…”
“Oh I know I know, me too, I did that the other day and this happened and then that happened….”
Not that long ago, I was cycling along the pavement. I cycle with my daughter on a “Tag Along” on the back, and after years of yobs beeping, to try to scare me as they drive by, and a lorry that once literally tryed to run me over, I don’t really feel guilty about it. Other countries make cycling very safe. Britain does not yet, however, seem to think it is a priority (in most areas). So, for the time being, I regularly use the pavements.
On this particularly sunny day, I came around the corner of a graveyard, to a middle-aged man yelling at me with his arms flailing around all over the camp. I stopped. I wasn’t going fast… There hadn’t been another person on the pavement for my entire journey… He kept yelling – Something about catching me. Something about putting a camera on the back of his car to video me. Something about police! I couldn’t even say “I”. He kept yelling. I kept trying to say something, anything, to get him to stop yelling. He was still waving his arms around. I started crying (Yes, I am a girl).
“Stop yelling at me!” I cryed. I couldn’t get anything else in. He was yelling a lot, about taking me to the police, because I knew I was in the wrong, and I knew it was illegal to cycle on the pavements. He was going to film me so they could catch me.
“I’ll give you my details!” I blurted in desperation. “Just please stop yelling at me!”
He ran into the grave yard lodge where he lived, to get paper, and I followed him. He came out still yelling and pointing at me. I pleaded with him to “talk to me like a human being”, but he kept interrupting. We sat down. I gave him my name, phone number and address. I told him I had already spoken to many policemen, who had always agreed that it isn’t safe on the roads. They’ve seemed happy to let me cycle on the pavements, as long as I have respect for any pedestrian I pass, which I do.
We started a conversation – a proper conversation. I told him that I had never knocked over a pedestrian. Why I can’t take any risks with my daughter on the back of my bike.
He told me that 7 people a year in Britain, are killed by being knocked over by bicycles (I can’t find data to back this up, but I’m sure somewhere out there this has happened). He told me that he is a single dad, with 3 teenage sons who have mental disabilities. One of his sons has been knocked over by a cyclist no less than 3 times, whilst coming around this very corner. His son is now so scared of the corner, that he walks into the graveyard and climbs over a wall.
The middle-aged man was called Jeremy. He was crying. I was still crying (it was probably that time of the month). We had come to a realisation, that we were both single parents trying to protect our children. I cycle on the pavements to protect my daughter. He was yelling at me to try to protect his son, although he admitted that he should really be yelling at the youths who come racing by on their BMX’s. It was just that I was the first person who actually stopped to listen to him. We were both in the wrong, but had landed there out of love for our children. He also told me that he hadn’t had a proper conversation with someone in 20 years. He had hidden himself away in the lodge by the graveyard, after being dealt a pretty rough hand in life. His sons are his life, and he doesn’t have much time for other people.
When I left, he asked me if I was going to cycle on the pavement. I smiled, and told him I was going to cycle on the pavement on the other side of the road. He laughed.
A pretty epiphanel moment for me, was during my Permaculture Design Course, 3-ish years ago. We held a talking circle in which the group, who had been living with each other for over a week, sat in a circle in a relaxing room, lit with candles. We passed around a ball of yarn. There were two rules – If you are holding the yarn, it’s your turn to talk, and if not, its your turn to listen.
I remember crying during that circle. About what was good, what I was happy about, what I wanted for my future, and my insecurities. I talked about my unexpected learning that I was a bad listener. That until then, I had not been taught to let a person finish what they needed to say, before I started.
The flowers from Jeremy were Hydrangeas, in a pot of soil, rather then cut flowers which would have been dead by now. I can plant them in my garden, and every time I look at them, I am reminded of the importance of listening.