Because of that, there are times when the areas I pass through are still fairly dark.
The corn fields look like a jumble of unorganized stalks in which I could easily be lost.
And the groves of trees looks unwelcoming.
Instead of seeing crowded stalks of corn, I see a field neat and well-organized rows.
And instead of seeing the sun barely peeking through the trees, I see rays of sunshine warming the woods and warming my thoughts.
These tiny changes in perspective reflect the importance of perspective in our lives as well.
Just knowing that always makes me smile.
I was riding my bike yesterday morning when I saw a tall man ahead of me on the road holding something out in front of him. At first, I thought he was walking a dog, but I couldn’t see one. As I got closer, I became more and more puzzled.
Then I realized he was carrying a broom. He was walking along a country road carrying a broom.
Just as I reached him, he stopped and began sweeping the road.
He motioned for me to be careful as I rode through broken glass, and I turned around to thank him.
He yelled something back that seemed to be an explanation of what had happened and a comment that it happens a lot, but I couldn’t really understand him.
But I was smiling at his efforts to make the world a safer place for everyone else.
People who do that always make me smile.
Day 29: Good Samaritans
My family thinks I ride my bike to get away from them, which is also partly true.
But I also ride my bike to observe what I either don’t see or can’t enjoy when I’m rushing by in my car.
I love the calm of the deer who raise their heads in curiosity and watch me ride by them. I’m fascinated by the rabbits that stand completely still in hopes that they won’t be seen. And I am amused by the skunks that amble through the weeds in an almost charming manner.
They almost always respond to my greetings, which are usually delivered as I sing off-key at the top of my lungs.
And since they never seem to mind my lack of musical ability, they always make me smile.
Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads
For years, I didn’t jump off the high dive even though I knew how to swim. I didn’t skip school for fear of being caught. And always managed to avoid the roller coaster that went upside down.
But when I rode my bike, I was fearless. I could ride without my hands on the handlebars and believe I was the most courageous girl in the world. And when I rode down a steep hill with no brakes, I felt like nothing would ever stop me again.
I am a little more cautious these days, but I still love riding my bike down steep hills. But my joy doesn’t come from my ability to let go and be a little reckless. It comes from the fact that every steep hill I go down is one that I just struggled going up.
As in life, the tough times help us appreciate the easier ones, and realizing that always makes me smile.
Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill
Day 2: Old Photographs
Day 1: The Martians on Sesame Street
For a few weeks during summer months when my children and I don’t have to be ready at 7:00 AM, I can pedal into the dawn on country roads.
Sometimes, the fog still clings to the fields, and I can almost see the ghosts of Civil War soldiers who once walked the land.
Usually, the deer and rabbits momentarily stop nibbling the leaves and grass to watch me pedal by.
And, during those early morning hours, the songs of the birds can be enjoyed without the roar of traffic and other human noises to dull them.
The sunrise tells me that the beauty of nature is evidence that humankind will never master the paintbrush like God can.
The sunrise whispers the importance of taking time to enjoy the moment instead of constantly anticipating the moments that are yet to come.
The sunrise reminds me that it is simply a reflection of life – constantly changing with time and the vantage point from which we observe it.
The sunrise says that it will never fail me. Even if I can’t see it through the clouds of a dark, gray day, it is still there holding the same promise that it does on a bright, sunny day.
And the sunrise shouts that it will always be a wonderful gift to be treasured.
School may be out for the summer, but the wise sunrise is ensuring the lessons haven’t stopped.
As an adult, not much has changed.
While my father, a forester, no longer teaches me about the secrets hidden in the shape and color of a leaf or in the texture of bark, I am still enamored of trees. And riding a bike is still one of my favorite pastimes. Few things bring me greater joy than taking a lazy bike ride among the beauty and wisdom of the trees.
I had that opportunity this past Sunday when I took advantage of a gorgeous autumn afternoon to ride my bike and attend to the lessons of the trees.
Lesson 1: Sometimes when you blend in, you bring out the best in others. On Sunday, this tree next to the church across from my neighborhood had started to model its fall colors. It was amazingly beautiful, but its splendor didn’t lie simply in its appearance. Even though I drive by that church every day, I’ve never paid much attention to it. But the hue of the red leaves was a perfect match to the color of the bricks, and I was struck by the church’s design.
Lesson 2: Loss and suffering are the best reminders of all that we still have. The past year was a tough one for trees. Almost exactly a year ago, we were hit by a bizarre October snowstorm that knocked down trees still heavy with green leaves, including two in my own yard. In June, we lost even more trees to a land hurricane, also known as a derecho. For weeks, the sound of chainsaws in the morning was as common as the sound of crickets in the evening. I hated that sound. Every time a chainsaw revved up, I knew we were saying goodbye to another tree. But riding my bike on Sunday, I passed hundreds of trees that had never been knocked down, and I felt a deep sense of gratitude for all those still standing.
Lesson 3: Happiness comes from accepting your circumstances and recognizing that, at times, your place might simply be to support someone else. These two trees in an expansive cornfield have always seemed out-of-place to me, yet each year they grow stronger together. From some angles, they are two distinct trees that mirror each other. From other angles they appear to be one. But from all angles, they remind me of two people who hold each other up in a tough environment that could easily defeat someone left all alone.
Lesson 4: The greatest sense of belonging comes from owning your own style and surrounding yourself with people who appreciate differences. Every time I pass these three trees on the edge of a field, I imagine them as a group of women all throwing their arms up in laughter. Each is unique: one is flamboyant, one is plain with a toddler at her knee and one is aging rapidly. Despite their differences, I see them as a united group that delights in life’s simple pleasure of friendship.
Lesson 5: Everyone has scars, but we can choose to let them weigh us down or strengthen us. Several years ago, I fell in love with a magnificent tree that simply owned the landscape. When it was hit by lightning, I was sure it was damaged beyond repair. About half the tree was dead, and several branches hung black and leafless. But this tree didn’t give up and has slowly recovered. It’s now smaller and has a different shape, but in my eyes, this survivor is a giant.
Yesterday, I took the same bike ride that I did on Sunday. The trees had already changed dramatically. Some displayed brighter colors of red, orange and yellow while others were losing their leaves. Most shone in a different light. But these changes gave me one more lesson: savor every beautiful moment, because nothing will ever be exactly the same again.
I can be pretty slow at times, especially when I ride my bike. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As the only person actually peddling on a road where others are simply pushing a gas pedal, I notice a lot.
For the past couple years, I’ve been regularly riding on a country road that gives me a great deal to think about:
A plowed cornfield with only one stalk left standing;
And a gate that, for all I can tell, is completely ineffective.
The gate crosses a gravel road that runs between two fields. Until this week, green stalks of corn filled one of the fields, while the other had no discernible crop. This week, both were plowed. So the road now runs, and eventually dead ends, between two muddy, empty fields.
Other than providing farm workers easy access to the fields, the road doesn’t serve much purpose. It certainly doesn’t lead anywhere interesting or provide enough privacy to be a lovers’ lane. Because of that, the importance of a locked gate with a fading private property sign eludes me. Since there is no fence on either side, the gate isn’t really preventing anyone from simply driving around it.
After passing the gate day after day, I finally took a picture and posted it on Facebook with a question about its purpose. I got a variety of responses ranging from people who took the question seriously to those who didn’t.
The general consensus was that there had probably been fences around the fields at some point. When they were torn down, the gate stayed to mark private property.
While this concept still puzzles me, it also reminds me of human behavior in general: we often tear down fences but leave gates standing.
We say we believe in equal rights and demonstrate this by tearing down barriers for others. Yet we still leave up gates to protect what we believe we earned or deserve and fear others may access or take away. Sometimes these gates are words. Sometimes they are the policies we support. And sometimes they are even religious beliefs.
But whatever the reason, the gates are there. And, just liked the locked gate I pass every day on my bike, they provide a false sense of security for some and serve as a challenge for others.
At times, I know I’ve protected my own gates. But the rebel in me also spends a lot of time thinking about how to get around gates. And I admit, there have been many times when riding my bike on the country road, I’ve been tempted to ride around the gate. The silliest thing is I would have no desire to ride on the gravel road if the gate weren’t there. I certainly don’t want to cause any problems or do any damage.
But then, I don’t think people who are seeking greater opportunities have any desire to trample on the achievements of others. They just know the possibilities would be endless if they weren’t constantly slowed down by so many locked gates.
Some of life’s most important lessons are the ones we sometimes never learn at all.
And some of life’s simplest lessons are the ones we often just ignore – like the problem with rocks in the road.
As a bicyclist, I ride an average of at least 10 miles a day. Because of that, I ride over a lot of rocks. For the most part, I don’t even realize the rocks are there. But every once in a while, my tire hits a rock and – due to speed or angle – I get knocked off course and sometimes even knocked down. Getting knocked down hurts, and sometimes the resulting injuries even leave scars.
Because of that, when I do notice a rock, I try to avoid it. And when there are a lot of rocks, I might even change course.
That’s life on my bike.
But I’ve noticed a lot of “rocks on the road” in the rest of my life too.
These rocks are often comments or actions that people believe are completely normal and appropriate. But to the nearby traveler on the road of life, those same words or actions may be slightly offensive or, at worst, hurtful. Sometimes they can also cause people to change course or fall down.
Just the other day, I was having coffee with a colleague who told me that years ago she had come to my office to talk about the possibility of interning with me. When she dropped by for the unscheduled visit, she was told I was in a meeting but that I was just with my intern and could be interrupted.
That one word “just” was enough to make her turn around and walk out the door. She didn’t want to be “just an intern.”
To be honest, I think I might have been the person who told her not to worry, and she changed the story to make me feel better. I don’t remember, but regardless of who said it, the word “just” became a rock in her life’s road.
Fortunately, for my colleague, her change of course is working for her. But she also had the advantage of already having several life successes under her belt. She could handle that rock.
I worry more about people who have so many rocks in their road that they can’t avoid them: people who have been knocked down so many times that they don’t trust that the road ahead gets any easier. Sometimes they’ve fallen so much, they have permanent scars.
For the most part, I don’t think we are doing this on purpose. But, at times, I think we are, especially when we make judgments about people whose circumstances we know nothing about. That’s when we become victim of the rocks in our heads.
I’ve noticed a trend of people posting comments online that belittle others who are “on welfare” or “on food stamps” or that make assumptions about people based on appearance. I don’t know which is the bigger rock: those comments or the bitter ones about people with expensive shoes, phones or cars who are receiving some sort of government assistance.
Here’s the deal. I, like most people I know, don’t believe that government assistance should be a permanent way of life. I also don’t believe that government assistance should be used for anything but basic needs. And I don’t believe smart phones and SUV’s are basic needs. I also agree that some people manipulate the system, and that we need to be diligent about stopping such abuse.
However, I also know that most people who receive assistance have fallen on hard times. Some may have previously afforded a lifestyle that included expensive clothes and cars. But then they lost their job or faced another crisis that caused them to deplete all their available resources, including help from friends and family. After that, they were forced to seek public assistance. That expensive car may be all they have left after losing their home, a spouse or a way of life.
Instead of assuming the rocks in their road are their own fault, maybe we should think about how we can pick some up, roll them out of the way or help these individuals navigate a new course.
Doing this follows the simplest life lesson: do unto others as we wish them to do to us. I know if and when I hit tough times, I don’t want to ridiculed and/or blamed.
But this lesson is so simple that a lot of us ignore it when convenient. Or until there’s a rock in our own road. Or until we get the judgmental rocks out of heads.
Unfortunately, sometimes those rocks in our heads are harder to get rid of than the rocks in our roads.
I’ve been monitoring the weather all week in hopes that both the temperature and the wind would cooperate so I could actually get out on my bike.
They did and I did.
In the last few months of cold weather, I’ve only been out on my bike four times. Yes, I’ve actually kept track. And, while I most definitely have a passion for riding my bike, I’m not sure which I enjoy more: the actual riding or the challenges that come with it.
Not everyone gets this. I’ve discovered that a lot of people who are bike riding enthusiasts simply like leisurely rides so they can enjoy a pretty day or the beauty of the world around them. Some people even prefer to stay on flat land as much as possible.
Not me. I love hills.
I can’t stand taking the easy route. It’s just not as interesting, exciting or challenging.
And, to be honest, I don’t really take the easy route when it comes to other parts of my life either. I guess how a person rides (or even doesn’t ride) a bike says a lot about how they live their life.
The thought first struck me years ago as I was struggling up an extremely steep hill. “I could have chosen an easier route,” I thought. “But if I did, I wouldn’t feel as strong at the top.”
Those hills are just like life’s challenges. None of us has a perfect life and all of us have our uphill climbs. But we also have choices as to how we face them.
We can either accept that challenges will be there and choose to tackle them head on, knowing that eventually things will get easier and we can enjoy the downhill glide, or we can try to avoid them and never have the opportunity for growth.
There are obvious benefits to choosing the easy route. There’s very little stress. There’s very little risk. And, you can focus on your surroundings and enjoy them. Granted, even when you take the easy road, there are always bumps and you’re always going to face a few hills. But, if you haven’t been practicing for those hills, building up your endurance, they are even harder to face when you are forced to go up them.
As I struggle to go up hill, no matter how much I want to quit, no matter how much my lungs feel like they are going to burst and no matter how my legs ache, I don’t let myself stop or turn around. I convince myself I will make it to the top, because, every time I do? I not only build my strength, I also build my confidence.
Besides, there is something to be said for making it to the top of a particularly steep climb with your pulse racing, your heart pumping and your nerves on edge. Not only do you have the sense of pride and accomplishment, but you know that, at least for the moment, you face a glorious, joyful, breathtaking dive downhill along with an opportunity to simply appreciate the moment. And, at least for me, I feel like I’ve earned the right to sit back, breathe deep, admire, the scenery, and appreciate a much deserved “easy ride.”
And the next time I face a hill, whether by choice or by circumstance, I don’t have any doubt that I can conquer it. Just like those uphill battles I face in life.