Dear Mr. Motorcycle Man,
Our family saw you a couple weeks ago en route to dinner. We planned to hit the parish fish fry and follow up with stations of the cross. The hope was for a fun, wholesome family-friendly evening.
We actually heard you before ever laying eyes on you. Your big belching Harley snaked through the lines of cars behind us. In seconds you were within eyesight range in the lane next to us as we slowed for a red light. It appeared a typical Friday evening rush hour. Commuters were jam-packed on one of Denver’s busiest thoroughfares, all impatiently waiting for the green after miles of painstakingly slow stop and go traffic. The leather jacket you wore, however, was anything but typical.
I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. It could’ve been conjured up in the mind of some twisted Hollywood director. In fact, in a darkened theater, I might have laughed and thought, “Ha—those crazy filmmakers. They sure can spin a yarn!” But this wasn’t from the warped imagination of Quentin Tarantino. It was right there in front of our car for all of us to witness, including our kids. In technicolor reality.
A giant patch on the back of your jacket proudly proclaimed,
(I’ve added the fun little cartoonish symbols.) We all zeroed in on the words in unmistakable large print. My 12-year old was the first to speak.
“Um… Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”
“Unbelievable,” I muttered as my husband shook his head in disgust.
“What? What?! I can’t SEE!” my 8-year-old shouted craning her neck towards the window, panicked that she might miss something amazing. Maybe an elephant, or a two-headed dog. She’s the youngest and suffers from “being left out syndrome.”
“You can’t see THAT?!” our 10-year old condescendingly chimed in. That didn’t help.
I don’t think my 8-year-old had ever been exposed to that kind of language so she naively overlooked the profane hatred now staring us right in the face. While we sat in a line of cars anxiously hoping for the light to change, I had to explain to my daughter what you had deliberately sewn onto the back of your super cool leather duds. As a parent, it’s never fun to explain rated R stuff on the fly. It sort of feels like navigating through a pasture of cows who have been fed a steady diet of prunes. Hitting a few land mines is a given. She listened, hanging on my every word as I stuttered and stammered.
“It’s a really bad curse word, Josie,” my oldest cut in. “You just shouldn’t say it.”
“Why does he have it on his coat then?”
“Good question,” I answered.
We sat in uncomfortable silence for a moment. Then the light changed and you accelerated, aggressively weaving in front of our car as if our mere presence angered you. My husband slowed to provide you ample room to maneuver in front of our minivan. You may remember it. It’s the one with the rosary hanging in the rear view and the sacred heart window decal. It must have been a trigger for you. Because you swerved recklessly, tilting your hog dangerously towards the pavement. I worried you were going to get yourself killed.
Then our eyes tracked you into the tangle of cars in the distance ahead. The explosion of your raging engine began to dissipate. You were gone. Though I don’t think any of us will ever forget you.
I asked the unsettled occupants of our car to seriously consider why you might have had those inflammatory, vulgar words displayed on your back. We wondered what kind of life you’ve led, what kind of childhood you had.
“What do you think his parents were like?” I pondered aloud.
After a little existential deliberation, we unanimously agreed it must have been a really rough life filled with a considerable amount of pain and suffering. Probably not a whole lot of unconditional love either. We figured your heart had been really damaged along the way. You had probably taken on a hardened exterior to try and protect yourself. That you never wanted to appear vulnerable or weak to anyone ever again. Then you may have started hurting others as well as yourself. At that moment we decided we should say a prayer for you.
I’m guessing you’re not a God-fearing kind of fellow, especially considering what my husband later told me he spied inscribed on your leather satchel. He kept it to himself though. He deemed it too shocking and derogatory towards women and just hoped that none of the kids spotted it too. I won’t repeat it here. It’s too ugly. But even if you don’t have any faith in a loving God that cares deeply for each one of us, know that the prayers of children are worth a whole lot. They are heard. They are powerful. They reach out beyond this world of fallen, broken, sinful people and they touch on something so good… true and beautiful. You can hang your bandanna on that! If you believe in nothing else, have faith in their earnest concern and innocence. The same sincerity and innocence I’m guessing you once had.
I thought of you a lot during the stations of the cross that night especially in the stirring words of the Psalms.
With a loud voice I cry out to the Lord
with a loud voice I beseech the Lord
My complaint I pour out before him;
before him I lay bare my distress.
When my spirit is faint within me you know my path.
In the way along which I walk they have hid a trap for me.
I look to the right to see, but there is no one who pays me heed
I have lost all means of escape;
there is no one who cares for my life. (Ps. 141:2-5)
We will continue to pray for you, Mr. Motorcycle Man. That you might know we are profoundly sorry for all of your suffering. We will pray that you might come to know love at its divine source. And that your wounded heart might receive healing. We will storm heaven for you amidst a world that chewed you up and spit you out. We forgive you and the obscene message you wore on your back. There is an offer of redemption out there for all of us.
And possibly another offer. Next time you’re thundering through town, we know a great Lenten fish fry…
Mary Jo Gerd and Family
p.s. The kids think you should start wearing a helmet.
16 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Motorcycle Man with the Obscene Message on His Jacket”
If you put this guy’s brain in a bird it would fly backward.
Several years ago, I was working children’s games at our parish festival. A teen wearing a T-shirt with a similar slogan came through the area and stayed to play a game. I approached him and quietly asked if he would please wear his shirt inside out. His response was to go get his father, who stood in the area with his arms crossed, glaring at me. The festival coordinator had to get the hired security team to escort him and his son out.
Such a desire to provoke. I think that the need to provoke comes from a place of deep hurt. It’s profoundly sad that the teen’s father cooperated in all that provocation. We are passing our sinfulness on to the next generation the way we pass on eye color! Thanks for sharing, Di.
I know people like him who have indeed changed their ways. So definitely keep him in your prayers and thanks for sharing your story.
Thanks, James! A good reminder for all of us. Mercy is a powerful healer. I have personally benefited from it. Praise the Lord!
Hmmm… I thought you were going to say that he showed up at the Stations and prayed devoutly or was cooking for the Fish Fry…because that has been my type of experience. In our small town in NM, we have sat behind someone with a similar jacket with the image degrading a female and foul language. He humbly participated in all parts of Mass. Yes, his jacket was a bad example for my children. But many times in my pride, I too, have been a bad example to my children.
I tend to dismiss these people as reprobates, and not give them the attention they so desperately crave. Thank you for sharing a more Christian response.
Marty, there are many times I’ve responded in a non-christian way too. Thanks for the honest comment.
The truth is, we live in a deeply pagan society. We are here – now. There are zero protections for the innocence of children, and there is no civility. Evil is not only tolerated, but sought by many. I can’t watch a basketball game with my children, for example, without seeing a man without clothes, a man at a urinal, a commercial for a demonic movie. I can’t take my children in public near any young people without hearing the vialest of language. Sin is at biblical levels, and pay, we will!
He’s just a conversion away.
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So true, James! I just saw the film “Unplanned” last night and have since been mulling over the major themes. The big takeaway is the power of consistent, faithful prayers and the witnessing of God’s love to those in the “other camp.” A former abortion clinic director is now one of the most persuasive, powerful voices in the pro-life movement.
I seem to have a different take on your story of Motorcycle Man. Sure, he was wearing a jacket with vulgar language, and his actions were meant to be “in your face.”
But what was your mindset? Stations of the cross as “fun?” Stations are a devotion intended to make us realize that our sins nailed Jesus to the cross. You, me, and Motorcycle Man are all sinners before God. It is a very level playing field. You used the word “snaked” rather than “weaved,” as if you know he is going to hell.
Next, you live in Denver, the mile high city, but not a “city on a hill.” Colorado is losing ground in the family friendly category, and it should be no surprise to encounter evil when you take your children out in public. Much of the country has gone that way.
Older children should be learning not to draw attention to evil, but to at least keep quiet when more innocent children are around. We all have slip ups from time to time, but we are capable of training ourselves and our children in virtuous habits. Your youngest, if she had seen the jacket’s message, would probably instinctively known that it was bad. Family discussions about the evil in the world and how to fight it are helpful to both children and parents.
Walk down a busy street in NYC and you will see everything you described times 100. Some might convert but most won’t do prepare your children to not just pray for these people but to deal with them because many won’t just drive away.
True enough, Saul! Our kids will need to be fire-tested and have regular access to the sacraments. God’s grace is more powerful than all the nasty slurs out there. Thanks for the comment.
I am at a real loss here. I get the consistent tone of your message as one of faith and forgiveness, but I am constantly tripping over your assumptions, judgements, and piety. Your discerning of his upbringing, pain in life, and otherwise feeling unloved is incredulous based on the two words on the back of a jacket. Two words only given power by your narrow views of acceptability. You end with a lot of Christian based rhetoric, but took all the time needed to pass judgement on someone else. Your pity is likely not wanted. Some could be just as easily offended by the rosary hanging from your mirror. Oh, how wrong and bad a person he must be, but thank God we have you and your life to be our shining example. My only suggestion would be to pray more and complain less.
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A good suggestion. I will take it to heart.