Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Certain Way of Riding in This World

Taken Jan 16, 2013: burned, cut down, destroyed.
Apr 28, 2014: regrown, blossoming, thriving, the fence still scarred by fire. This: exhuberant domination of life-force.

A familiar scene from several romance movies: the attractive but somewhat anxious suitor approaches the girl at the bar who might be just slightly out of his league. There's clearly chemistry between them as he moves within conversation range, which is close in the noisy room. He hesitates. She looks him straight in the eye, smiles slightly, and says, "Don't blow it." She waits. It's all up to him. Don't screw this up, dude.

Within that close electric space delineated by two strangers at the bar, what happens in the next moment, and for the rest of the night, and occasionally for the rest of their lives, is up to the two of them, starting with the next words out of the guy's mouth. Although set in the trivial context of a romance movie, it is a quintessentially human situation: short of a fight breaking out in the bar (saw that one, too), or some other dramatic intrusive plot twist, anything might happen, and it's all up to them. 

Glory, or defeat, either way, it's the operations of their minds, the machinations of their own hearts, that dictate the outcome, as well as the perception of it as it unfolds, as well as the memories of it afterwards. No pressure, humans, this could only be the greatest moment of your lives, or an abysmal, forgettable defeat (one more of a string of them?).

Many of our encounters with other people are like this whether we recognize them as such or not. Up to us to direct. Movies we're starring in. Scenes we're playing. How will they turn out? How did they go? We acted our parts, said our lines, stuck to our defined roles, and they turned out how they did. Spectacular? Awful? Somewhere in the dull, gray middle? Up to us. Who else could it be? Don't blow it. Don't screw this up, dude.

Yet, we do. I do. Blow it all the time.Walking through the several acts that make up a life, blowing it. Look around, it's easy to see happening everywhere, all the time. At the kids' concert at the middle school, while the kids are up their performing songs they worked hard on, parents in the stands too busy texting to listen. You think the kids don't notice? You think the kids don't learn many things from this? How to act. How to be. How to attend your kids' concerts at middle school haphazardly, inattentively, distracted by fleeting electronic messages, posts, videos. Blowing it, moment by moment.

Harsh with each other when all it would take to resolve is to eat something. Or to hydrate. Or to take a couple of deep breaths. Irritations, deficits, disorders inside ourselves that we own, that we produce, that we should govern, which we allow to lash out, from weakness, from lack of perspective, from our own limits. Don't blow it.

The title of the post was inspired by a poem by Maya Angelou, Our Grandmothers, which portrays a woman who, in spite of an exceedingly difficult life constantly pitted against forces of prejudice and power trying to tear her down, maintains an inner strength of steadfastness and faith: "I shall not, I shall not be moved," she intones.

I understand these things, the situation of the guy at the bar, as well as the center position we actually play in the ebb and flow of our own lives, and this causes me to aspire to a certain way of riding in this life, one inspired by the kind of exuberant domination of life-force on exhibition by the oleanders in the photos above.

This way of riding is more-than-surviving, it's thriving and ready for anything, phyisically, emotionally, intellectually, instinctively, right skills, right time, right place. It's dodging, evading, waving, smiling, dancing and not hitting, hopping and not falling, swooping and not skidding. 

It's thinking three seconds ahead and noticing everything that's coming even if everything that's coming has its head up its ass while texting while lane drifting while running a red light. 

This way of riding gives what is needed to who needs it when they need it.

It speaks words that the other wants to hear: the girl thinks: he did not blow it
The driver thinks: that was pretty cool. 
The pedestrian thinks: that guy was very polite, not in a hurry, not a jerk in any way. 

It hands a cold bottle of water to a homeless guy on a hot day. It buys someone lunch who really needs it. It shows patience at a moment when understanding can change a life for the better. It turns off the damned cell phone for the duration of the middle school concert.

When hot, tired, thirsty, angry, lonely, hormonally challenged, hungry or hurt, this rider of a certain way in this life thinks of the grandmothers in the Maya Angelou poem, and intones, ""I shall not, I shall not be moved." Steady on. 

The exuberant domination of life-force that powers all efforts is there to see me through, and to remind me of what's at stake, and who's responsible. Everything. Me. Here and now.

Riding my bike to work I think these things. That greeting the construction guy loudly and sincerely, and receiving his cheerful response, does nothing more than change a couple of moments for a couple of lives in a tiny, nice way. But that was my choice. My doing. Not doing it would have felt like blowing it to me. 

And every day, each time that I choose differently, and observe others choosing differently, to proceed with cold indifference and self-centered attention and focus, I think, that also is a choice, affecting a couple of lives in a tiny, not-so-nice way. These tiny choices, these small acts, the minor effects, they add up. On the street, riding on the road to work: a wave, or not? A smile, or not? A quick greeting, or not? Anger, a finger, a gesture, a yell, or emotional control? Evade or engage with violence? Dodge or hit?

Whatever life brings, whatever the world throws at me, to come out the other side like the oleaders in the photos: growing, blooming, green and thriving, exuberant in the sunlight of this day here and now. Unmoved.

These tiny choices, these small acts, these minor effects, they add up to life. What we're doing, what we're feeling,  how we're living, that's what's at stake. Thinking of it like that, I know how I want to proceed. I know the end that I desire. To stay steady. Keep to the happy. Maintain a certain way of riding in this world.

Riding my bike to work I think these things: what a world that would be.



  1. pedals on...deep in thought. Thanks. =)

    1. Thanks John. I almost got taken out by a Prius turning right as I was crossing a busy intersection a little too deep in thought. The brain waves and rhythms are good on a bike, but I got to remember to keep the situational awareness and traffic proprioception cranked up to 11, too!!


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