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Ungifting

Located in Jefferson County, Colorado, Lookout Mountain is a legendary road climb that gains 1,273 feet of elevation in just 4.5 miles, with an average gradient of 5.4%. Its many twists and turns maximize views of metropolitan Denver far below, which eventually peak at 7,329 feet.

For these reasons, the road is a popular destination for everyone on wheels, especially during weekends and holidays. And with only one lane in each direction, traffic is often unavoidable.

During the half-hour climb, riding amidst the cars and other cyclists, I settle in, find my pace, and focus on my pedals’ revolutions. It’s so meditative that I sometimes momentarily forget where I am.

“You know what? You guys are a bunch of pains in the asses!”

I look to my left and see an older man on a red Harley, both feet on the asphalt, staring at me. He’s in a line of five cars moving in the opposite direction, none of which are going fast enough for his taste, so he decided to let me know how he felt about cyclists.

With such a short window to respond, the only thing that comes to mind is the tried-and-true, “Fuck you!”

“Fuck you!” he barks back, now dozens of feet behind me.

I immediately regret my actions. I should have recognized that, like me, this man is suffering in ways I cannot know, and he’s angry. And that a compassionate response—a brief nod in his direction, a quick smile—could have made all the difference. Instead, I accepted his gift of aggression and returned one of my own. 

I’m reminded of a parable about the Buddha, who refused to let an angry onlooker disturb or upset him. When later asked about it, he responded: “If you buy a gift for someone and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?”

It’s the same with anger. If someone becomes angry with me and I don’t accept their “gift,” their anger falls back on them, as it was initially theirs to give. Then, they’re the one who remains unhappy, and all they’ve done is hurt themselves. 

The next time someone throws me their hot coal, may I remain mindful enough to remember these words, recognize their suffering, react compassionately, and put an end to the cycle of hatred.

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