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Be generous: Share the road

Kate Barrett | Wednesday, September 3, 2008

If you lived in South Bend this past summer you could not have missed the news of three tragic accidents which have occurred locally since mid-July.

Patrick Sawyer was hit by a car while cycling on the morning of July 16, and died of his injuries on July 21. He was 40. Keith Coros was hit by a car on July 23 while maneuvering his motorized wheelchair across an intersection at a traffic light. He was 61, and died at the scene of the accident. Peter Kaczor was hit by a car while cycling on Aug. 29, and he too died at the crash site. He was 38.

Many others have used up time and space in the blogosphere debating whether or not non-automobile vehicles should even be on city streets, and if so, what responsibilities drivers assume towards these smaller, slower, sometimes less-visible means of transport. This is not strictly a column about the rules for “sharing the road,” though that is a lesson that has come home to me in particular after the death of Pat Sawyer, who was a friend of my family and mine.

You risk a lot when you place the importance of your time or the significance of your needs above those of others. Sometimes, just one selfish decision can lead to regret beyond what we’ve ever dreamed.

The 21-year-old driver who hit Pat was intoxicated, and he left the scene without even stopping; he then turned himself in to the police the next day. He may have thought he couldn’t wait to sober up, or didn’t have time to drive more carefully, or just couldn’t stop to see who he’d hit. Unfortunately, time has now stopped in too many ways both for him and for the many who mourn for a husband, a dad and a friend.

Perhaps our own moments of selfishness won’t ever kill another person. However, if we think our time is too prized or our needs too great to pause in the life of another, we may wound someone we love, or someone we don’t even know, by a careless word or omission. We may lose the opportunity to bring comfort to a widow, a son or a daughter overcome by grief. We may miss out on the chance to meet a new friend who will change us or teach us to see the world with new eyes.

As Patrick’s wife and their children attempt to navigate a new life irrevocably changed by their loss, I have begun to recognize in a whole new way that very basic truth of our faith: Our lives are not ours to grasp tightly and arrange in ways that simply meet our own needs. Jesus has called us, by his own example of sacrifice, to offer our lives to each other.

Imagine if we really did put the needs of others before our own. What if we actually lived like the Good Samaritan, who delayed his own journey to attend to the needs of the wounded traveler? Two others had hurried right by their injured “neighbor,” not wanting to interrupt their busy schedules. What if we lived like the shepherd who took the time to find the one lost sheep that had wandered away from his flock of 100? His concern for the lost one made the risk of leaving the others worth it.

Maybe we drive intolerantly, aggravated by the elderly woman going too slowly – surely we have more important places to get to than she does, right? Maybe we hurry along the quad, impatient with the guy we can’t quite edge around to get to class faster – doesn’t he realize we’re running late? Maybe we even sit edgily through Mass – come on, this priest has got to know we’ve got stuff to do!

Actually, Jesus teaches us – unmistakably and without equivocation – that “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” We can put ourselves first so frequently and thoughtlessly that we lose sight of the fact that the message of the gospels clearly states, in Jesus’ words and in his very death, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

Most of all at this time of the year, when so many opportunities and people and needs are new, whenever you can, make the generous choice. Share the road. None of us possesses time so valuable or needs so significant that we cannot offer something of ourselves to others. Jesus offered his very life for us; surely we can offer our time, full attention and generous hearts to one another.

Kate Barrett is the director of resources and special projects for Campus Ministry and can be contacted at kbarrett@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.