Are You Sure?
I walk the dog every day around the same time in the morning, so I see the same people who share my routine. There’s my neighbor down the street with her 10-month-old German shepherd puppy. There are my former masters swimming buddies with one or two of their friends. There’s the teen no longer wearing a shirt in the summer walking his small white dog.
Lately, though, there’s been a mysterious bike rider.
She rides a street bike, often peddles without sitting, and wears a pink visor rather than a helmet. And she’s alone.
Our dog, as I’ve previously mentioned, is nervous, so it caught our attention when the woman pedaled up behind us, crossed the street in front of us, and then pulled over to get off the road onto the sidewalk. She stopped, staying there long enough that my nervous dog reacted to this unexpected presence on his walk. He’s not much into change or surprises, so it was troublesome walking past her.
She seemed to be drinking, but couldn’t she drink while riding? I always do. Why was she just sitting there doing nothing? She was straddling her bike, deliberately pausing but clearly not in distress. She wasn’t looking over her bike for problems. She didn’t smile, wave, or say good morning like everyone else does.
Truth be told, I was petty and slightly annoyed because her pause meant the 45-pound dog needing a lot of assurance and attention as he pulled at me.
I might have forgotten the whole thing, but then it happened again two more times in exactly the same way.
Clearly, there was something suspicious here. Why was she stopping in the same place repeatedly with no clear reason? Perhaps she was having clandestine meetings! Or she was making secret phone calls that had to be made in private away from her home. For sure, there was intrigue.
Then, one day on a bike ride myself, I saw her come out of her house with a man also on his bike, and the two rode off together in the same direction I was heading.
I had my answer. Her husband outpaces her, so this must be the spot where they agree to meet mid-ride before heading off back home together.
I had a prosaic solution to the not-so-intriguing mystery.
I mean, not really. That could be her brother or cousin or friend or roommate. There are other explanations.
My first story is one I made up for fun knowing I was making it up. The more recent one is more logical but no less made up.
My explanation, though, changes how I view the moment.
I’ve been guilty of this before. When in graduate school, I wanted a pet, but I couldn’t manage a cat or dog so got a pet bunny at the suggestion of a friend. I didn’t really know anything about bunnies, so when I was told that this bunny was a boy, I gladly named him Pip and took him home.
Unlike cats or dogs, bunnies don’t get vaccinations, so Pip didn’t make it to the vet for a while. In the meantime, I grew to love him and his boldness. He had no fear, bouncing around the entire apartment. One time as I sat on the floor (to be in bunny petting position) leaning against the loveseat, Pip jumped over my shoulder, stealing a Wheat Thin from my hand, landing in dip, and leaving rabbit prints behind him.
When I introduced Pip to a friend’s visiting boyfriend, he commented that only female bunnies have dewlaps, which Pip had. Hmmm.
And, yes, the vet confirmed it. My Pip was a girl. I laughed and said that I’d never questioned it because Pip had always been so fearless, to which the vet replied, well, that’s because she’s a girl. Female bunnies are the bold ones.
The difference between grad school me and current me is that thanks to my studies of Buddhism I now recognize that I’m making up stories — that we all are — and that, alas, they often are not true.
One of the steps on the Eightfold Path that leads to enlightenment is Right View. First, we have to understand deeply that we are inhabiting a view, a perspective. Then we need to remind ourselves that our perspective is limited and not the only one. Thich Nhat Hanh recommends asking, “Are you sure?” He even suggests creating a little sign saying that as a reminder. I have one on my bedroom door.
When we’re wrong at the level of Right View (and Right is contextual, not doctrinal), we get it wrong at Right Thinking too. Our ideas flow from our perspective.
I made up my mind about Pip being a boy and about what boys were like (thanks a lot, patriarchy, for the brainwashing), so I read HER behavior as masculine.
If I genuinely had believed the stories I made up about the bike rider, I maybe would have been judgmental or unfriendly — not exactly the good neighbor any of us want to have or to be.
So, yes, I see it. I’m sure that if I’m not careful I will turn into Gladys Kravitz from Bewitched, the nosy neighbor always on the lookout for suspicious behavior. Gladys, of course, was not wrong. There was some witchcraft happening there. But imagine if instead of always trying to cause trouble and catch Samantha in the act if she’d been open and curious in a positive kind of way. She could’ve had some mighty fun barbecues over at the Stephens house instead of always peering into windows and being made a fool.
We would do well to remember as David Loy writes in The World Is Made of Stories that “The life we are thrown into is a storied one where the task of interpretation is unavoidable and always incomplete.”
So we probably can’t be sure, but we can acknowledge that and interpret accordingly, leaving a lot of room for curiosity and compassion.