Keeping the Balance

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.


Swimming with the Fishes

After insisting to anyone within earshot that “I wouldn’t ever in this lifetime,” I signed up for a triathlon sprint. While standing on the sidelines for a few of them, I realized that I didn’t have to be buff or a goddess. My running is at a good place. All I had to do was practice my almost non-existent biking skills and jump back into the pool after a very long dry hiatus.

Returning to the swimming pool at the Y, I engaged in the appearance of lap swimming. Practicing my breast stroke I found myself in the slow lane next to, how can I put this nicely? Slow people.  I fancy myself going into the medium lane where I’m sure not to gain on the person in front of me in two strokes. I knew that if I had the nerve to move lanes I probably wouldn’t see dangling legs going at a snail’s pace smack right in front of my goggles. But I don’t have the daring. Instead, sad to say, I sulked a bit, was impatient and more annoying to myself than the person in front of me. Glub, glub!

Keeping at my plan I’ve returned to the pool a few times a week. I know that occasionally some capped stranger will jump into the slow lane and suddenly it turns into a medium lane. Everyone is quite nice and we let each other go ahead if they’re a tad(pole) faster. The only person that didn’t smile at me was the lady who walks her dog each morning when I do. My yorkie-poo barks whenever her larger dog comes near. The lady crosses over a block in advance when she sees us coming. I’m still not sure how we recognized each other in the pool with our goggles and caps on but we still keep coming back.

Then my partner suggested we go to the free evening lap swim at the neighborhood city pool. The first night was wonderful. We met a friend there just by chance. The sunset was in full swing and it was magical. But last night was a struggle. Because it was a sweltering evening  everyone came out to swim. About five percent of the people in the slow lane were lap swimmers. The rest, well, again, what can I say? One guy swam almost underneath me. This evoked memories of being twelve years old but luckily he was a gentleman and kept his hands to himself. A very pregnant woman swam in the middle of the pool with her Styrofoam thingy keeping her afloat. The lane is divided in two, comers and goers. But what can you say when the Madonna goes for a swim? Then there was the leaping lady who insisted on going ahead of me. Every time I got near she leapt ahead. I kind of respected her frog-like action. The last I’ll mention was the woman who decided to jog in the water and pinned me between the mama-to-be and herself. Glub. Glub.

I stood at the end of the pool between two men who were also patiently awaiting their turns. I contemplated going to the medium lane but saw the people there were actually walking at that moment. There were so many of them that it looked as though they were standing in line at the bank. Taking a deep breath, I began speaking to the guy next to me. He told me that he’s actually a fencer healing up from a stress fracture of his thigh bone. Such an interesting guy! I loved that he noticed I was breathing on alternate sides during each of my timed third strokes- Great guy that he is! When I explained I’m training for the tri, another well-defined muscular gent on my right told me he, too, is training for the one I’ll be doing. He suggested I become a member of the Brooklyn Tri-Club. We shared thoughts and tips and I got happy! I’d become just one of many in this crazy school of fish!

I’m sure that in the ocean fish bump into each other, they stare at one another without blinking, and share anecdotes about what to do when the current goes the wrong way! I’m just a regular fish going about swimmingly with the other little fishes. I don’t have to be a shark ready to strike but I can be a dolphin, friendly, and living in a community. I hear dolphin skins are delicate. My skin is also thin and easily bruised, I must admit, too much of the time. Taking a lesson from them, I’ll learn how to live and thrive in a community. Jumping and diving, I’ll make happy sounds and make people smile. I’ll swim with all the others as we try to survive the challenging stuff. We can all live blissfully in the sea!