The Smile of a Stranger


After the rain broke, I took a short bike ride on the Swamp Rabbit trail. I slowed for an approaching cyclist at the intersection of Wardlaw Street. A kid on a beat-up ten speed bike (an old Schwinn) came flying down Wardlaw. He jammed on the brakes, skidded onto the SRT, stood on the pedals and took off. I started to close the gap, not because I wanted to race, more out of curiosity. Who is this kid absolutely flying on this ancient bike? He twisted his head around and saw me closing so he pushed harder. I geared up and closed on him. I slowed considerably for the crossing at Willard, at the CSX train depot, but he twisted that bike for all it was worth. He scrambled across the wet train tracks then stood up and pushed hard across the wooden foot bridge. The WET, wooden bridge. His rear tire slipped but he gathered it up with the handlebars and kept going. I eased way off because water and wood are a cyclist’s enemy. When the trail straightened out, I closed the gap, then eased off and cringed as he dodged two moms with their strollers. I closed up again. He craned his neck like an owl looking for me, then pushed his skinny legs so hard, his bike was creaking.


As we approached the Swamp Rabbit Cafe, he slammed on the brakes and skidded into their parking lot. This kid needs some friendly advice, like it or not, he’s getting it. After planting his feet, he turned to me and smiled as big and authentic as only someone with Down’s Syndrome can. He offered me a hearty thumbs up then practically shouted: “WOW! You’re really fast, Mister!”

Thank you.  And so are you.

What are you grateful for today? A smile? A kind word? Maybe a glass of sweet tea or some advice from a friend? Perhaps you’re grateful for an old bicycle or a car with well over 100,000 miles.  I’m grateful for a chance encounter with a smiling young man who reminded me that the race isn’t always to the swift, it’s to those that can brighten the day of a stranger.

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