“Listening to both sides of a story will convince you that there is more to a story than both sides.”
– Frank Tyger
Yesterday, a friend wrote on her Facebook page that she nearly hit a runner who was running down the road instead of the sidewalk. Scary stuff, indeed. I can certainly understand her frustration. Most, if not all, of the commenters agreed and felt that runners need to be on the sidewalks and in reflective garb. All seemed to express how bad they would feel if they hit a runner.
As I read the post, however, I couldn’t help but think about what it looks like from the other side of the windshield.
I run, and have so for eight years. Quite often in the dark, especially in the winter, in the early morning. I wear an orange vest with reflective tape on both sides. It’s not something I always wore, but over the years I have come to see the importance of being seen.
It’s not easy to see the other person’s point of view. When I started running, for a long time I took for granted that people could see me. When no one is around, I would run on the back streets instead of the sidewalks because the sidewalks were uneven, I couldn’t see my feet, and I fell a couple times on a small break in the pavement.
But it still took me a long time, years really, to really get in the habit of wearing the orange vest. I just didn’t “need” it, and if anything it was bulky and uncomfortable. I’m not arrogant, invulnerable, or stupid. It just was the last thing I thought of in the morning. Nonetheless, it eventually became a part of my morning routine.
Then, on a run a few days before this past Christmas, I forgot my vest. I realized it about a mile in to the run, thus it was too late. I didn’t think much of it. By the fifth mile, the home stretch, I was puffing hard and not thinking. I was zoned, going on instinct alone. I was on the sidewalk of a busy road and came to an intersection. I looked all ways, and a car was coming from my right. He slowed down and I started to cross. When I had gotten halfway across the crosswalk, into his lane, I looked up again and …
He accelerated. Hard.
He blew by me, and instinctively I reached out and smacked the side of his car hard with my hand. It was that close.
He pulled over on the next street. I ran up to him and, with great restraint (or at least as much as I could muster), told him what happened, told him how close he had come, and how he must stop at stop signs.
But as I was giving him a lecture, I noticed he had an empty car seat in the back. He was a father, too. He had a worried look. Shocked. He seemed to be a nice guy. I couldn’t help, upon later reflection, that he could have been me. Completely unaware that he rolled stop signs and didn’t see a pedestrian.
In fact, he was me. Because I drive, too. I drive 7 miles to work every day. I drive one of my kids to one school at 6:45 am, then drop another at the bus. I then drive to my other daughter to her school at 8:15 am. On the weekends, I drive to the hardware store, the grocery store, take the family out to eat, and drive to the coast in the summer and the mountains in the winter.
The windshield has two sides. And I am on both.
It’s easy to blame the runner when you can’t see him or her. It’s easy to curse the biker when he swerves into your lane. It’s easy to shake your head at the teenager who crosses the street without looking. I understand.
And it’s easy for the runner, the biker, and the pedestrian to yell at the driver who comes to close. I understand that, too.
No matter which side you’re on at any given moment, both of you – yes, there are two of you – want to avoid an accident. Both of you are trying to watch out. Both of you want to stay alive. Both of you are taking precautions.
But, in spite of our precautions, we can’t control everything. The runner forgets his orange vest. The driver’s cell phone rings. The pedestrian sees the white crossing signal, but forgets to look left. The bicyclist hits a pot hole. It’s foggy, it’s rainy, the sun’s in the driver’s eyes. Or maybe the runner is new and hasn’t figured out all the safety rules yet and is running down the middle of the street. The unexpected does, and will, happen.
The best you can do is focus on what *you* can do on your side of the windshield, not what *they* can do. If you’re driving, slow down, watch the intersections. If you’re a runner, stay on the sidewalk when possible and wear bright, reflective gear. If you’re a biker, wear your helmet, stay in the bike lines. If you’re a pedestrian, use the crosswalks, and look both ways. If there’s an accident, life doesn’t care about whose fault it is.
Blaming the person on the other side of the windshield for not doing the “right” thing doesn’t help anyone be safer.
A final thought.
As a driver, if you hit a runner, you walk away feeling bad.
As a runner, you don’t walk away.
Yesterday’s gift of time … Yesterday morning, driving to work, I stopped to get gas. The attendant at my gas station told me that it was his wife who was hospitalized after an elderly driver hit the accelerator and crashed into our gas station in Beaverton the other day. We talked for awhile as he filled the tank. She’s pretty beat up and will be immobilized for awhile. I gave him a couple McDonald’s gift cards so they can get a cheap meal when she’s better. It was all I could think of to offer.
Accidents happen. Be safe.