Cycling at 17 miles per hour during the Tri-Sprint last week, I saw there’d been an accident up ahead. I had to carefully find my way through a very narrowed lane in order to avoid an ambulance, two EMS persons and the injured party. She was lying on a wooden board with her head immobilized. Her bike was still on the ground somewhere between her and me. I got through there pretty easily. I realize that 17 miles an hour on a bike isn’t fast for some people but it is for me. I’d only dusted my bike out a couple of months ago after not really feeling great about cycling. I’d never really learned as a kid because I was terrible at letting myself go and still maintaining my balance.
I found out the woman who’d fallen off her bike had somehow lost all control of her handle bars. Not having the ability to know what she was feeling, I’m sure of some things I am feeling. My whole life is a balancing act. I’m afraid that I will lose all sense of control and end up immobilized. Watching her I saw the strength in her face, the adept way that the other cyclists skillfully avoided her and the quickness in the actions of the emergency workers. In my estimation, from my bicycle saddle, she was being taken care of. Sometimes when we let go, we will lose our balance. We are not in control of all things. It could be a bumpy road, a letter that arrives in the mail, a phone call at 2am, or a pink slip at work. Even as I write this, I feel a slight intake of my breath and a heightened sense of anxiety. What will come next? The point is that we don’t know what’s next.
Peering down at the injured woman I knew that she could be me. I fell a couple of months ago and skinned my knee when my friends and I had just mounted our bikes. I cried and sat down on a big old rock. My friends scurried for water to clean my wound, they found a bandage and they all gave me hugs. They made sure I was composed and ready to roll when we climbed back on our bikes. Yes, I did fall but I was taken care of. It somehow made up for some past falls I’d made as a kid. I was famous for falling and creating gaping holes in new leotards. I remember once tumbling and gasping, “oh, my knee” and the grating laughter of an older kid who mimicked my reactions. I was ashamed to have fallen and having the nerve to be in pain about it. I was four. It would have been okay to cry and have my booboo kissed and I probably would have gone about my business. Instead, I stayed with shame for a really long time. Shame has kept me away from a lot of good things.
In the bigger picture of my life, I fall, get up again and keep at things that I have determined are important for my growth, my life and service to others. When I started writing I was ashamed to “show my paper” to anyone. At first I didn’t want anyone to read what I wrote, criticize my words and, especially, tell me I’d made a mistake. Fortunately with enough spills and rejections I am aware that I feel vulnerable but truly, no one really wants to hurt me. In fact, many want to help me. My writing and my bike riding have improved. How do I know that? Well, if I depended on my feelings I may not know it. The facts tell a different story. When I ride with 400 other people in a race, it tells me I’m different. When I share my words in a blog or in a story that strangers read and I ask for feedback, that shows me I’m changing too.
Keeping balanced in all the spheres of my life takes work. I once had a martial arts teacher who reminded me often enough, “you are who you practice to be.” So I practice this art of life. Sometimes I am shaky and other times, I’m a ballerina in toe shoes dancing across a stage while others applaud. Most times I’m in the middle, practicing, breathing and mindful that it is not all in my control but I can give it the best that I can.
I hope that the woman who toppled over her handle bars is on the mend and maybe even rode again this morning. Regaining one’s balance is often not easy. To get up again and carry on doing the things we love without shame may take a certain grace but that’s one thing I know that there’s plenty of to go around.