Sunday, June 19, 2016

Deep Naming: Riding the Cyclist Identity Path

Road bike, abandoned railroad cut

What's in a name? Or more precisely, where does it come from, and what does it mean? Today I rode a 2005 Lemond road bike, half carbon, half steel, do I identify with what I ride somehow? But how fragile and superficial would that be, since if that were so, all I have to do to alter my identity is to ride one of my other bikes, or, more likely, go and buy another. Poof! New identity? It can't work that way, can it?

Or, perhaps it's where, or how I ride, or how fast? Or slow? But today, on this hot Father's Day Sunday, I rode a while on gravel trails with road tires pumped up to 100 psi, what's my identity then? If I switched to a, I guess, more appropriate mountain bike, with softer fatter tires, would that change me into someone or something else?

Maybe my identity mainly derives from where I live, somehow my essential character is inextricably linked to the character of the place? For example, do I live in a city with fast reliable rail and trolley links, or rather, one that used to have them, until they were erased by auto industry and land barons?

Back in the day, light rail senior

Or maybe, back to the bicycle, it's not how I ride, or what I ride, or where I ride, but what I look at when I get there? What catches my attention? What makes my heart skip a beat with joy? To ride all this way, in the gathering heat, with a clear mind and open heart, then to see this guy between the water and path. Took my breath away. Does that make me who I am somehow? If my whims change and instead of graceful egrets, it becomes electric "fat" bikes that causes my soul to soar, does that alter me, that easy, that fast, on a whim?

Probably the egret will always win over electric "fat" bikes, for me

If identity is so closely tied to time and place, though, and who can deny they are related, then who were the people that lived in this place 700 years ago, the small band who called Loma del Rio home? How did they identify, how did they name and know themselves, and could I from my time and place have felt kinship or connection with them, if we were to somehow meet face to face, me on my carbon and steel road bike riding past their homes, they tending their canals and small plots?

Plaque near the abandoned railroad cut

I tend to think that it can't be our stuff that defines who were are, not really. Our earthly possessions come and go so easily, and are for the most part so commercialized and throwaway, that to link ourselves to such stuff would be to commercialize and trashify our very hearts. Shouldn't we resist? If all we have is a ragged carryon and some tattered trashbags, is that who were are? And how could that be?

No one should be identified by this

I heard someone say this week, "You can tell a lot about a person by how they act in a crisis." Which sounded like an excellent hint. It doesn't directly define who a person is, but points to it, I think. Are you the sort who organizes and sets out free water on the canal for people to drink on a super-hot day, just because that speaks to who you are and how you act toward others?

Thank you, gracious anonymous water deployer. Who are you?

On Father's Day, it's not too much of a stretch for me to say that I am "Father." But I think that, ultimately, all these names we give ourselves, and that others give us, for better and often for worse, are not really who were are. In my more religious moments, it comforts me to think that we are actually named by God alone, beloved, and that probably best expresses my deepest belief, or hope. I hope that because the other names are so easily and callously given, and just as easily and callously discarded, but I want there to be something more, something deeper.

How about our jobs? Should we identify deeply with those? I've come to look at others who do, and myself when I do too much, and think, poor bastard, stop that. Today a job is nothing more than an economic transaction, for better and for worse. If your job happens to be your calling then that's different, and I don't refer to you here. I refer to most of us, who work in places where we might find out tomorrow morning that our number is up, that we are dismissed, laid off, sent packing, with a few weeks of severance and a COBRA health insurance fare-thee-well love note. If you've put your heart into that job, spent nights and weekends pouring yourself in it, then that happens (hey it's not personal, it's just business), then, you poor bastard, who are you now?

We are rough around the edges, and looking inwards, find at the core....what? I hope that if I did somehow run into those Hohokam people from 700 years ago, that we actually could learn and know each others deep names. Not what I ride, or how they dig their canals, or where they live, or where I'm from, or what odd sounds I make when I speak, but our deep names. I hook onto that thought, stand next to my bicycle in an abandoned railroad cut, and try to think ancient thoughts about a people who may have known who they really were better than we ever will.


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