“Always assume positive intent.” So a coworker of mine once said to me, in response to my grumbling about some work situation or other. His meaning, of course, was to see the bright side of things. Assume the other person meant well, even if perhaps they didn’t.

This afternoon, I overcame a long period of negativity and dread about getting back on the bike, and finally got on with it. With sustained winds of 15-20 mph, gusting to 30, and my own current bike fitness a shadow of what it was only 2 months ago, I picked a tough day to do so. But I’m glad I did.

About 4 miles into the short 7-mile ride, a guy in the passenger side of a vehicle I passed at a T-intersection – his window was down – started clapping loudly and saying “Thank you”, clearly directed at me. Now, every cyclist knows that we get more than our fair share of harassment from motorists, and it takes all forms. Equally well we know that much of what comes our way isn’t even comprehensible – that is, sometimes the words are but their exact intent is not. Here we go again, I thought.

The car pulled out and passed me in the left lane – I was in the right shoulder – and again the guy was half leaning out the window, looking at me, clapping and saying “thank you”. Seeing him stopping just ahead at a red light, and even though I was intending to go that same direction, I chose to make a “long u-turn” in a nearby parking lot and let him drive on. As I passed him and turned away into the lot, once again he was clapping and thanking me.

He said nothing else, at least that I could hear. What could clapping and “thank you” have meant? It’s likelier than not that he was being sarcastic or mean-spirited, in some way whose meaning isn’t clear. But in that moment, I chose to believe he was thanking me for getting out and riding in these unpleasant conditions. I chose to believe he was thanking me for celebrating life, and effort, and that he was in some mysterious way aware of how, by choosing to ride today, I was purposefully turning my back on willfully bad decisions made and perpetuated by myself, friends, and family. I chose to believe that he was in some mysterious way aware of my now weeks-long hesitation to get back on the bike, as I sank deeper and deeper into bad health, and that I’d only today forgiven myself for past mistakes and allowed myself to move forward FROM WHERE I AM NOW. I chose to believe he was thanking me for taking a very small, yet so-crucial, first step toward my dreams, and maybe in some small way inspiring others who saw me, to do the same.

In choosing to believe this, the reality is that my better self was choosing to thank me for turning the page on a dark chapter and beginning again to improve my own health, when it was becoming frighteningly easy to just “go with the flow” straight into that dark night.

You’re welcome.