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The light turns green. I step into the crosswalk at River Avenue and 16th Street in downtown Holland, Michigan and as I do, a strange and slow collision between a van and a bicycle happens right in front of me.
“I’m so sorry! Are you okay?!” yells the driver from his open window. “I didn’t see you! Are you okay?”
The man on the bike is okay. And he is not okay.
He gets up from the road and picks up the objects I now notice he must have been carrying while biking—a broom and a long spade—and he rushes at the van, yelling words I can’t quite make out, but can guess at, based on their rise and fall. Winding the tools up like a batter with a baseball bat, he hits the driver’s side door of the van with his broom and his spade, turns around, and then circles back for a second charge, this time reaching the broom and spade through the open window at the driver.
The man in the van raises both his arms to protect his face, all the while, yelling, “I’m so, so sorry! I didn’t see you!”
I make my way across the crosswalk. “Hey!” I call feebly. I land on the other side of the street. A pony-tailed woman from Canada in a summer dress and a backpack. What help could I offer?
The driver makes a right turn and pulls to the right side of the road. The other man takes his spade and throws it at the van’s passenger side doors. The van has had enough. He speeds away, heading west on 16th Street.
I try to get the attention of the man picking up his spade. He’s just been hit by a van, after all. “Are you okay?” I ask. I have to ask again, because I’m not sure he hears me. “Are you okay?” His eyes don’t meet my eyes. “I like it like that,” he says. I notice he wears a cross around his neck. Not a small gold cross, but a large cross that looks like it is made out of plastic flowers and torn pieces of fabric.
Other motorists are honking in the intersection. The bike is still in the crosswalk. The man with the cross around his neck throws his spade at another vehicle.
And I walk away. West on 16th Street. Away from the strange scene.
Away from the spade. And the man with the spade.
I walk evenly and slowly, taking a look back over my shoulder now and then.
I am okay. And I am not okay.
What just happened?
In the week since this event, I’ve looked at it through multiple lenses.
- The lens of road rules for cyclists and motorists. Whose fault was this?
- The lens of the escalation of violence. How quickly one thing leads to another!
- The lens of racial tension. I know Holland, Michigan, well enough to know that this tension is real.
- The lens of my own responsibility. Should I have intervened? Stayed around? Called the police?
- The lens of my own naivety. My own fear. My own racism. My own privilege. My own disengagement – not just with these men, but with the bigger stories of violence and fear in our world.
Back home in Kingston, Ontario, I share the story with my family while we are driving in our own van. They react in all the ways I expected they would. They are startled, aghast, a little bit afraid for Mommy’s safety.
And then my ten-year-old daughter says, “We should pray for him.”
“Which ‘him’?” I ask.
“Well, both of them.”
And then she prays. She prays that they will be okay and that God will help them with whatever led up to this happening and that God will help them with whatever happens after.
God, forgive me for arriving so late to the lens of prayer… to the lens of prayerful curiosity about the stories of these men… the trauma that led to or came from this moment.
Where were they coming from? Where we they going? Where did they go?
The man on the bike had a broom and a spade.
A broom and a spade.
There’s a day coming
when the mountain of God’s House
Will be The Mountain—
solid, towering over all mountains.
All nations will river toward it,
people from all over set out for it.
They’ll say, “Come,
let’s climb God’s Mountain,
go to the House of the God of Jacob.
He’ll show us the way he works
so we can live the way we’re made.”
Zion’s the source of the revelation.
God’s Message comes from Jerusalem.
He’ll settle things fairly between nations.
He’ll make things right between many peoples.
They’ll turn their swords into shovels,
their spears into hoes.
No more will nation fight nation;
they won’t play war anymore.
Come, family of Jacob,
let’s live in the light of God.
Isaiah 2:1-5, The Message