by Beth Mende Conny © 2012
My sister and I grew up in a two-room apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. My mom was a single mom and this was all she could afford. I mention this not to tug on your heartstrings but to get you to imagine how tight space was.
Understandably, my mom had to set limits on the number and types of toys my sister and I could have. Stuffed animals, board games, skates — no problem. A bike? No way.
But it was also no big deal. None of my City friends rode bikes. We had just as good a time skating, playing tag and handball, and climbing monkey bars.
Flash forward a few years. I’m a junior in college and have transferred from a City college to one in Upstate New York, and I am surrounded by kids who grew up in suburbs and small towns. They all know how to bike ride. They ride to and from campus, to the mall and parties. They even ride in groups, just to hang out.
It was embarrassing to not do what most kids learned to do at age five or six. With the exception of my best friend, Madge, I kept the secret to myself and made excuses when people asked if I wanted to ride somewhere.
Flash forward a year. It’s my birthday, and I’m feeling the need to mark it in a significant way. But how? I’m considering my options as I pass a bike stand on my way into the Student Union. Among the dozens of 10-speeds is an ancient three-speed Schwinn with a for sale sign: $25. I, of course, am not an expert on bikes, but it’s got a seat, handlebars and two wheels, and I think: “Well, this is my birthday, and I am looking for something significant …”
I tracked down the girl who owned it—she happened to be working in the student health food coop—and I bought it on the spot.
Next, I tracked down Madge and she agreed to ride it home for me. (We lived off campus, and there was no way I was going to attempt my first bike ride in broad daylight.)
Later that night, when I was sure most people were in for the evening, I walked my Schwinn to a side street, lowered the bike seat so that my sneakers were flat on the ground and just sat. And sat. And I kept wondering: How could two wheels hold up one body? What if I fell?
I thought about friends, bike riders all, who were taller and heavier than me who managed to stay aloft, and I could think of none who had ever broken an arm or run off of the road.
“Oh, what the hell,” I thought and began coasting, lifting my sneakers a couple of inches off the ground to get a feel for how things worked. Up the block, down the block. Again and again. Then I put one foot on the pedals. Up the block, down the block. Again and again.
And then the moment of truth. “Now or never,” I thought. But really what I was saying was, “Stand up to the fear, or walk away.“ The thought of walking instead of riding away was unacceptable. I would lose self-respect.
I kicked off, coasted a bit, put both feet on the pedals and then — a miracle. I rode. Up the block, down the block. Again and again. Simple as that. The Schwinn held me upright. I didn’t break my arm. And I understood, truly understood, how wishing and doing can be a life-changing duo. They create momentum. They engender faith.
Now, by way of disclosure, let me say this: Bikes still scare me. I don’t ride often, and I keep my seat low so I can brake with my feet if I have to (and have a death wish). I could try to get over this fear but I’ve got others to deal with. I have, in fact, a hierarchy of fears, and I’ve got to pick and choose my battles. Bike riding is not one of them.
Still, I remember the momentum, the wind softly brushing my cheeks — and how two measly wheels, powered by faith, can keep a person upright.
by Beth Mende Conny
Life is a gift, bow-tied and ready to be opened. There, nestled in tissue paper, is your true self aching to be enjoyed. Enjoy.
Also to be enjoyed: A free downloadable of this art and quotation (right click to save to your computer). Fits a 4 x 6 frame.
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