Boy two’s love affair with the bike continues. “You don’t really see anything from a car,” he says. “On your bike you see everything. All kinds of stuff you never noticed before.” The family was headed to a country park about ten minutes away by car. Boy two invited me to bike there with him instead. He chattered while we biked. Pointed out things here and there, or told me things he’d seen other times on his bike, most of it followed by further praise of the glory of bikes. The chatter alone was worth the price of admission, but here are some of the things we would have missed from the car.
I wish I knew what these flowers were called, I said.
Baby shoes, he said. They should be called baby shoes. Don’t you just think of baby shoes when you look at them? I’m calling them baby shoes. That’s exactly what they look like.
And then later . . .
Look, Mom! More baby shoes.
Like every boy worth his salt, Boy two gazed into the water convinced he saw signs of living things. Big, unknown, and wild things in shadows and ripples. If we hadn’t been on a mission to show a sibling his increased manly biking speed, I might have lost him here gazing at the creek for the afternoon. (Gazing would have been ten minutes. After that he would have started getting wet.)
We really could not believe it when we came upon this baby skunk. The mother was nowhere in sight, so we felt free to put our bikes down and watch for a little while. He/she was exploring a ditch along a well cared for lawn. After a bit little one ambled back into the metal drainage pipe we assumed was also home.
Boys on Bikes, originally published May 1919. Compliments of OldDesignShop
It started off with rides. I’m teaching Phys.Ed. two afternoons a week at the younger kid’s school. On teaching afternoons there’s simply no way to pick up Boy one unless he has a late practice. Enter the lowly bike. It’s about 18 or so km (10 miles) from the bus stop to here, most of it against the wind. I thought he would balk at the idea but he didn’t. We’ve only needed the bike solution a few times, but the effects have been far reaching. The stress of how he’ll get home those days is gone and we’ve all opened our eyes to the possibilities.
A few weeks ago, Boy one wanted a ride to the much beloved, 150 year old annual fall fair. Timing wasn’t good for me. He opted to bike. It took him an hour. He got permission to put his bike behind the village store. We picked him and his bike up after dark. For the cost of admission and the labour of transportation, he got a much appreciated day of independence.
On the weekend, Boy two was desperate to get to the library. Normally pretty happy go lucky, every once in a while he gets his mind set and becomes remarkably like a dog with a bone. Such was his need for the library. It was the third or fourth day in a row I had been grilled about it, but I didn’t know if I could manage to get him there or not.
Just last week we were chatting with the librarian (librarians = revered members of the social elite in Boy two’s world) about kids who live in town vs. kids from the country. How Boy two would be at the library every day if he could walk over, and how old did he have to be to volunteer there anyway. With Boy two now in obvious emotional pain for want of a library trip, I was feeling bad about not living in town, when I remembered the mighty bicycle.
“I can’t promise to take you. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. If you want a guarantee, get your brother to bike there with you. It’ll take you awhile to get there,” I said.
Brother tried to say no due to other plans but did not stand a chance. Normally the weaker debater, Boy two had Boy one signed on the dotted line in pretty short order. They got their music practiced, their beds stripped and some basic chores done. They filled water bottles, threw in some cold pancakes and a hunk of cheese for lunch, grabbed their backpacks for book restocking, and pedalled off. They left at 11:30 and didn’t get home until 2:00. Due to size, they don’t make bikes for Boy two with big tires and lots of gear options, so their trip was not speedy. With book offerings for themselves and their sisters, the brothers returned home tired, but happy and taller.
Last fall I got lost in the woods and swamps near where we live. With light fading, and the realization that my children would soon arrive home to an empty house, I left the bike I had been stubbornly carrying through the swamps beside a tree. I knew I would never see it again. I needed to get home and not much else mattered.
I do not have an innate sense of direction and rarely know which way is north. I could see the sun setting in the west, but as I had no idea where I was, it didn’t tell me which way to go. All I could be sure about was that by going in one direction (as opposed to circles) I would eventually hit a road. Once on a road, I would know finally know the way home.
Recently, I found myself rather irritated by another human being and in a position where my opinion about this human was being sought. (Due to my lack of patience and an unfortunate deficit of inborn humility, I am ashamed to say that this feeling of personal disdain for other people is something that have a good deal of experience with.) Human mentioned above had not been terribly thoughtful or pleasant in their interactions with me. Better words to describe their approach to me would be along the lines of dismissive, condescending, and largely oblivious to me as a fellow traveller on the highway of life.
I was justified, and therefore longed to spell out in clipped. King’s. Best. English. my. insights. about. the. nasty. human. Unfortunately, I had to admit to myself that the human seemed hurting, and that the hurt might be driving the harshness of the public persona. This has been me also, in other places. I grudgingly wondered if a small amount of mercy were in order. Secondly, and a far from noble reality, I worried that if the person asking my opinion didn’t share my views, that my negative reactions might be reflected back at me, rather than the human who really DESERVED them. I went with soft truthful but gentle. No accusations attached.
I got a note back thanking me and saying that my response had been charitable. It caught me off guard. Even if I got there for not all the right reasons, was it true? I felt like I was sitting with that word charitable floating in the air in front of me. I couldn’t stop looking. I still can’t.
I have begun to wonder what it would be like if I were to become someone who was charitable. If being well defended from the enemies of people who misunderstand me, is actually a missed opportunity to be the kind of person I would very much like to be.
Charitable isn’t the road I thought I was looking for. But there’s a clear path through the trees. No bells. No whistles. No gold stars on a chart. Just a way home, if I’ll take it.