Friday, October 17, 2014

Faith and High Beams

The church event was a lovely one, a celebration of World Food Day organized by our music director.   Folks from my little church, their friends, and representatives of local environmental organizations sat down and shared a potluck meal made of locally grown harvest.  It was both fun and heartening and yummy.

And when everything was cleaned up and put away, it was time to roll home.  I'd been worried about rain, just a little bit, as my little Suzuki's decided to get a little finicky about ingesting water.  But though rains had come through, and the ground was wet, the skies weren't dropping moisture.

I suited up, threw a leg over the bike, fired it up, and began the ride home through the rising mist.

Those late evening rides back from church are lovely, and the cooling October night was no exception.  Sitting smack in the middle of 93,000 acres of agricultural reserve, the little town where my church resides can be accessed only over miles of little country two-lanes.   The lights of houses are speckled here and there, down long gravel drives.  You do not pass, as you ride, the endless rows of tickytackytownhomes and flat-straight four-lane strip malls of 'Murika sprawl, but the fields and forests that were our landscape up until a generation ago.

At night, those deliciously ridable American roads are deep and very dark and lightly traveled.

It's high beam country.

And my bike has great high beams, two huge twin reflectors, mounted way up on its tall, lanky frame.  I snick that little thumbswitch by the left handgrip, and the little blue light comes on in the instrument pod, and the road lights up far ahead.  I cast, ahead of me, two tightly nested cones of light, enough to make for comfortable riding at a gentleman's express pace.

I love riding alone through the darkness.  Being that solitary speck of bright in a cool dark night gives a powerful sense of place, of being yourself in the world.  It feels wild and free.

But though it's a place of freedom, there are rules for riding in high beam country.

There are others who ride the same roads, but who aren't traveling the same way.  They've got other places to go, other homes that call them homeward.   You encounter their light first, as the forest or roadside around a distant bend lights up to announce their arrival.

And just before their light rises over the hill, or flares around the bend, you dip your own.  Snick, goes the switch, and the lowbeams are on, like a nod of acknowledgment or...in another era...the tipping of a hat.  You pass one another, respecting the integrity of the other traveler, until that moment you pass.  Snick, and the darkness ahead is banished again.

As I rode through the cool of the night, that blue light illumined, I found myself wishing Americans could grasp this sort of respect in our exchanges with one another.  We're not all the same, in our faith, in our politics. We do not have to be.  It's what makes the United States a wonderful place to live.

But as we live and move through our increasingly loud and crowded lives, it feels like we're all high beams, all the time.  We see that stranger, traveling in another direction to a different home, and we leave our beams on full.

Why should we dim our light, just because they're coming?  That's their problem, not ours, if our full blare brightness bothers them.  What right do they have, to make us do something?  No way will we tone ourselves down.   No way will we compromise.  Heck, if we had brighter beams, we'd use 'em.

So we rush blindingly at one another, lost in the retina-dazzle of our own stubborn selfishness.  And blinded, we lose our ability to see the road ahead.

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