In his TED talk “How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are,” Andrew Solomon says, “Ease makes less of an impression on us than struggle. We could have been ourselves without our delights, but not without the misfortunes that drive our search for meaning. ‘Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities,’ St. Paul wrote in Second Corinthians, ‘for when I am weak, then I am strong.’” This reminds me of an instance in my own life of struggle and weakness.
I now own a bike for the very first time in my life. I am 44 years old and I never learned to ride a bike. Well, I shouldn’t say never because when I was 20 years old I tried to learn. My good friends Kyle and Bob began teaching me how to ride a bike on Washington Island in Door County, Wisconsin. That summer I didn’t practice much because Bob and I would often rent a tandem bike and since I would ride on the back, I didn’t really perfect the key elements of bike riding that I needed to be a solo rider: balance, steering, confidence.
The next few times I rode a bike were disastrous. The first one was at Versailles the very next summer. Being young, I was overconfident in my new found cycling skills so I rented a bike at Versailles. I almost got hit by several cars and the friend that I was riding with was a nervous wreck, but somehow I felt like it went pretty well.
Obviously, I felt like it went well enough to try again. The next time I rode was when I went to visit a friend in Columbia, Missouri. We rented bikes along the Missouri River. It was a very straight bike path and there were very few other people on it. I was feeling fairly confident, that is, until a very large black bug flew into my face! Next thing I knew I was on the ground, scratches and blood covered my hands and knees, and a very surprised friend stared at me from several yards ahead.
Not to be defeated, I tried again. This time it was here at Jesus People. My friend Tammy and I wanted to go play volleyball down at the beach, but the group setting it up had left much earlier. I had just finished working in the kitchen and Tammy suggested we bike down to the lake to make up for lost time. I borrowed a very expensive bike from a very serious cyclist and we headed to the beach.
I can ride straight ahead with no problem, but as soon as there is turning involved, I break into a sweat, cling like mad to the handlebars and hope for the best . . .
The jogger didn’t even know what hit her. She was standing still, waiting to cross Wilson at the bike path, when I plowed her down. As I got up from on top of this bewildered jogger and removed the bike from on top of her, I could tell that the bike wasn’t all right. Tammy looked back from several yards ahead, equally bewildered at the scene. She backtracked and straightened the wheel on my borrowed bike and we walked the bikes the rest of the way to the volleyball game already in progress.
Needless to say, I hadn’t really ever learn to ride a bike. Not really. Back in junior high and high school there were many moments when I’d wanted to crawl under a rock when the topic came up. The phrase, “it’s like riding a bike,” had never been a good analogy in my mind. And when my children wanted to go on a bike ride, they’d have had to ask their father to go with them.
I call her Daisy. She is a beautiful blue Columbia 3-gear adult tricycle with a wire basket. Tonight, my husband and I went on a night ride, and if I had grown up riding bikes my whole life it wouldn’t have been half as exhilarating as it was. As I was riding around, I thought of Andrew Solomon’s TED talk and of how he enjoys things so much more because he didn’t expect them, “I tend to find the ecstasy hidden in ordinary joys, because I did not expect those joys to be ordinary to me.”
I never expected to ride a bike. The delight is overwhelming.