July 7: Musings about meaning

Bingo word: Kindness of strangers

This happened yesterday a few kilometres from the Manitoba border. I was pedalling along enjoying the nice shoulders and smooth pavement. I was doing my usual thing scanning the road in front of me and listening for vehicles coming up behind me. I saw a car and pickup truck approaching in the oncoming lane. Nothing strange about that. Then I heard a vehicle behind me slow down rapidly. I shoulder checked and saw a SUV behind me, but keeping pace with me. I figured it was just a nervous driver and so I pulled over as far right as I could go. There was a good 10 feet between me and the white line at this point. The SUV didn’t move to pass me. Whatever. I just kept pedalling. The oncoming traffic passed, but the SUV just stayed tailing me. And then it pulled up along side me. I looked over to see the passenger window roll down:

Driver: Are you cycling across Canada?

Me: Yes, that is the plan.

Driver: Have you had all of your needs met today?

Me: *Immediately uncomfortable with the question.*

Me: …uh…yes…thanks.

Driver: Well praise the lord! Now have a blessed and safe trip!

Driver: *Speeds off into the distance.*

Me: *Bursts out laughing.*

Now you might be saying to yourself, Andres, that says more about you than anything else. I’ve been thinking about that, and I wish to disagree. Consider the following two scenarios.

Scenario 1. I’m in a bar on a Saturday night enjoying a pint and watching highlights from the Tour de France on a big screen. A person walks up to me, leans on the table, and asks, “Have you had all of your needs met today?” In this context I would be quite confident in concluding that they are not asking after my spiritual well-being, or whether I am sufficiently fed and hydrated. They are clearly asking after something entirely different.

Scenario 2. I pick up camp and load my bike up on a Sunday morning and start cycling east. I pull into a small town around noon. I stop at the side of the road to google where the nearest restaurant is. Now it just so happens that I stopped in front of a church. The parishioners are making their way outside for their summertime Sunday sidewalk fellowship. A parishioner approaches me and asks, “Have you had all your needs met today?” Clearly here they are asking after my spiritual well-being and possibly even whether I am fed and hydrated.

Now let’s go back to the context I found myself in yesterday. Usually in a motorist-cyclist interaction, the motorist is screaming profanities at me. You know, for me existing. So that the driver wasn’t screaming profanities at me took me by complete surprise. And then when they asked whether all my needs had been met…I had no contextual clues to give priority to one interpretation of the question over another. But this was no fault of mine or the driver. The interaction had to be short. The questions needed to simple enough to elicit a simple yes or no. Too much information could be lost to the environment if the questions or answers were any longer or more complex.

I grew up under a rock in small town Saskatchewan, so I can appreciate the innocence of the question. And to be quite honest, I found it touching that a complete stranger would take 30 seconds out of their day just to see if I was doing okay. I will take an ambiguous question over profanities any day. It’s good to know there are good people in the world.

But enough of that. All you Arrested Development fans will no doubt be thinking about this scene. Enjoy.


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