Today, I give thanks for all of the upstanders. From Thurgood Marshall, who championed innocence a hundred times over, to the student I talked with today who said, “I knew it wasn’t right, so I said something.”
One time, about this time of year, I was taking a fall ride on my very very dorky bike. The air was sweet and golden. The trees were showing off. I was so elated with the scenery, I went up and down the parallel roads off Lee, soaking in every honey drop of November.
Until…several young men saw me and started to heckle me. True, I weighed less than I do now, but I was big, and I could hear them say, “Fatso.” And, “watch out, your tires might pop.” They were young men, maybe 14, 15 years old.
I rode past them, then I u-turned my way back and ended up peddling at just their speed right next to them. I said, “You guys don’t even know me. I’m just out enjoying a beautiful ride on a beautiful day.” Their heads ducked. They stopped speaking. They were mortified that I, a middle-aged woman, was saddled up next to them giving them the what-for.
But I kept talking, never raising my voice. “All we have to give each other is kindness, guys. That’s all we can ever hand to a stranger. Kindness. I’m going to keep riding and I hope you remember what I said today for a long time.”
Then I peeled off and headed back down to Shaker Lakes. I heard them laugh – but it was an anxious laugh, a “trying to be cool” laugh (as a teacher I am expert in recognizing those). And then the guys ran off, probably, I bet, to make sure I did not kidnap their attention again.
I have no idea where those men are now, and I have no idea if the words I spoke had an impact, but my prayer is that they stuck in one of them and they have changed the way they treat their girlfriend, or their chubby daughter, or a passerby at Home Depot.
We don’t all have to be like Thurgood or Mary Bethune or Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld. But I guess we can just drop small doses of justice wherever we go, even if it’s on a bike.0