Overcoming Ignorance – Arlington, VA

During my drive today, I realized that I am a racist, bigoted, self-righteous ass sometimes. Most often, that occurs when I am driving. I have a hypothesis: we are such angry drivers because we have no control over the world outside our vehicle, yet we convince ourselves that we do. For no apparent reason, cars slow down on the highway, sit in the left lane, or ride my bumper. All of these things perturb me, and I have realized that I tend to ascribe this behavior to an incompetence that often gets associated with a race or class of people.

There is, however, a remedy: understand that I do not understand. In no way do understand the motivations, emotions, or history of any other driver on the road. Any assumption I make about their character, their desires, or their intelligence is pure speculation. I do not know the habits they learned when they started driving. I was not there when they took their driving test. I am not looking out their windshield, seeing the world as they do. I am alone in my own little world, here in my little car, just piloting my way along the winding interstate highways. To believe I know anything more is sheer folly.

Although taking a position of ignorance (and especially one of apathy) is rather uncomfortable at first, I find that it can be the panacea for so much stress in my life. As I-95 passed through Richmond and then Fredericksburg, traffic slowed to a halt. In the classic game of which-lane-will-move-faster? I realized that I was not getting frustrated even though I was already behind schedule. A game is all it was. When I guessed wrong, I slowed obligingly and accepted defeat. However, I arrived at my destination in high spirits and was able to enjoy the evening with distant relatives to whom I have been much too estranged.

This evening, I am staying in Arlington, Virginia with my third (I think?) cousin, Al, and his daughter, Rosemary. I saw Al last summer as I passed through the D.C. area, but I have not seen Rosemary in over a decade. To be honest, I would not have recognized her if I hadn’t expected to meet her here. Al made us Turkey burgers for dinner, which turned out quite tasty. (I must make note of eating burgers on rye bread.) We spent the rest of the evening chatting and getting each other caught up on the last several years. I had some explaining to do about my recent change in life, but I heard much more from them. Much like my experience on the road, I’ve realized that I know almost nothing about the life these two have led. In tandem, they told many stories from Rosemary’s childhood, and I recognized that I was on the outside of these experiences that they could never fully explain to me. We shared some of our musical exploits (Al on the piano, I with my guitar, and Rosemary with recordings of some vocal experimentation). They showed their heavy influence of ragtime and blues where I took my lead from today’s acoustic indie and rock. A clear connection existed between their music that failed to reach mine. In no way is that a bad thing; it is merely an illustration of the different paths we take and the people we become because of them. I will never fully understand either of their lives, but I have been fortunate enough to get a glimmer of those lives tonight. In their music and in their stories, they shared a piece of who they are.

AlandRosemary

As I get back on the road in the morning, I’m sure I will be looking at the other drivers sharing the road with me in a bit of a different light. Where did they come from? What is their story? What makes them who they are? When we ask these questions, we come closer to understanding just a little about another human being, which can make all the difference in the way we judge them.

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