Why did the metaphysical bum cross the road?

The light turned green as I was about to enter the intersection and make a left turn. A man, vagrant-looking, tall, lithe, energetic, black, began crossing the road despite his red light and my green light. There were a lot of cars queued up for the turn, and it was a short light. The man clearly saw the color of the lights. With a look of alarm, he hesitated for a second. He seemed to tell himself ‘oh, I’d better hurry up!’

With the humblest of hand waves and head nods, he motioned for us to let him make the crossing. We were far beyond the point of lights changing at this point, we were firmly into our allotted light time and the clock was ticking. As if the man had waved a wand over us, we stopped. “Well look at that, it’s green! Are you going? You’re going! Oh, no? Can I go? Okay I’ll go. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much.” For a moment, his dirty, faded, threadbare jeans and respectable thrift store white button up were a tuxedo as he bowed in gratitude for holding on just one teensy-tiny itsy-bitsy second so he could slink on by.

Time was really running out on the light. The pressure was mounting in the queue. I stomped on the gas as I would a cockroach and promptly hit the next red light. I felt cheated. Swindled. Taken advantage of.

Why did that man take so much humble joy in holding up the line? And why did I stop for him? Was it some kind of transcendent experience of forgiveness for him? Does he bask in the cathartic glow of confessing to his minor transgressions while forsaking the arc of failure that is his life? Does he sabotage himself into situations where he is at fault, but safe in the fact that his wrongdoing really hurts no one? Does this man plant seeds of obstruction and annoyance for the sole purpose of harvesting fuzzy warm fruits of understanding and reconciliation?

Why did he continue walking in the middle of a red light, with so many cars about to turn? Because he was committed to it and it was too hard to retreat to the corner from whence he came? How often I have felt that the powers that be are mere legions of vagrants prostrating themselves before us on a green light as we make a turn.

The next light turned green. Eh, maybe he was crazy.


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