The loneliness of the far-away runner was very evident. He runs through my thoughts still. As my vehicle swept around a steep curve of the rocky-mountain road in the heart of British Columbia, the golden sunlight glittering off the autumnal yellow of the larch and aspens, I have on the long slope of the valley road ahead of me this sudden image of the backside of running jeans, a red plaid shirt, a brown leathern vest worn by a twenty-six year-old with longish dark hair bouncing from under the ubiquitous dark blue, or was it a black Canadian cap? He had the hurried lope as of someone not out for exercise, but rather as of one anxious to be somewhere else. Entirely alone in a landscape that had no towns in either direction for very many miles, he heard our onrush and turned and stopped and stuck his thumb out, but as we whizzed by he momentarily dropped his head in a dejected way and stooped over with his hands to his knees for breath (I saw in the rearview mirror,) and then continued running after us.
The instant of indecision was upon me. A fellow traveler in distress? A fellow human needing help, assistance, a lift? A hitchhiker as I too frequently had been at his age? His face appeared unkempt, unshaven; mine oft does so too. His eyes appeared searching, rather than friendly, as can mine, but perhaps because he focused on my wife in the passenger seat and then glanced into the car, rather than catching my eye, I did not feel the connection between he and me, brief as the encounter be. Some delicacy of my sensibility was awry, and in that slight fear the moment took over, and I did not stop, but left him to deal with some other fate. Does he run still? Did someone else stop for him? Was a murder reported on the unforgettable autumnal day of that far-away highway?
What fear has not been inculcated in us all by the movies we see, the news reports, the stories told, the warnings given? We are no longer easily able to offer a stranger at the door a non protective stance. We are afraid of the unknown. We wear helmets and belts and even carry mace and have identity cards and cell-phones and money belts in the name of protection. We are F.O.I.P. obsessed in meetings over the privacy rights of individuals without even knowing precisely what the acronym stands for. We wear tags and bracelets identifying our belonging, our permission to be, our declaration or proof to others that we are safe. And distrust is a state of dis-ease as we encounter the other, the stranger, the lost or the anxious or the... god forbid, the shifty-eyed. We clutch up our closest, clutch our hands into fists, firm our jaws, and get ready to fight or take flight. Fear of otherness, unusualness, alien-ness, and even difference drives us away.
Approximately ten kilometers along we passed a faded red civic doing only about 90 in the 110 km/h zone. The lone older man looked like an upset father, his large face staring grimly ahead from behind thick black-framed glasses, and as I zoomed by I imagined him looking in his rear view mirror to see if his errant son had been taught sufficient of a lesson. But that last bit is very much my construct, my story, my imagining of how that distinctly out-of-place young man came to be. Still, how many other vehicles passed the runner by? Why was he out there? And when, for me, will he no longer be my singular moment of fear pounding over and over at an everlasting pavement? Or is prudence, at any time, the better part of a pretence at being virtuous? Was he, is he... okay? Hmm?