I promised the Thursday night group I would post the stories that I share with them at our meeting. Here’s one. Most of these stories I wrote some years ago for a publication in our town called Inside Recovery.
Teaching D to Ride
She’s certainly old enough for a two wheeler, though she never really went through a training wheel period. We had borrowed an old training wheeler bike that D never took to, now all her friends were riding free of training wheels and D wanted a bike, too, without training wheels. Why not, I thought, she’s ready.
We bought a beautiful teal bike, no training wheels, one hand brake in addition to foot brakes, no gears, a good beginning bike. We added a kick stand, you can kick it either forward or backward and there is no deficit either way.
I recalled the first thrill myself of riding on two wheels. I remembered my father running with me down the street, then I remembered casting off on my own down Norwood Street howling with delight and sailing on two wheels down the mighty concrete sidewalk. I remembered that first ride on two wheels, I remembered nothing about the training wheels and training period that led up to that first ride, but I remembered the ten seconds or so hurtling down Norwood street before the bike ran out of momentum and I tumbled onto Jamie Carson’s lawn.
I wasn’t thinking about that, however, as I took D on her new teal two wheeler over to the black top at the school. It was hot, I was frustrated. I had already failed at three major events that day.
My first failure was the hot water dispenser in our new state of the art kitchen that dripped dripped dripped itself into a steady stream, and I couldn’t fix it. I had callouses older than this piece of simple machinery upon which my morning coffee depends and I couldn’t make it work. As a matter of fact, I made it worse. What once was an experimental drip drip drip had turned into a current that would surely wear a geologic pathway through the stainless steel sink as if it were a rock formation along the mighty Colorado river. I imagined urban archaeologists in some future age digging up my kitchen and demonstrating by my lousy hot water dispenser the inexorable power of nature to wear itself through steel.
My second failure came after my brother informed me that my brake lights were not working on my Scandanavian automobile. There are three brake lights back there, two on the fins and one in the middle of the rear window, none of them worked. I made it worse because I removed a protective plastic cover over the middle brake light which I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to replace. Then I had no brake lights and the guts of the brake light in the middle were exposed and hanging out, and everytime I glanced in the rear view mirror, I was granted a vison of my own incompetence.
The third thing I had failed at on that day had to do with the computer. I have a good mind, by all accounts. I bought a new hard drive for my computer from a company that promised effortless set-up and immediate use. So I tried to connect up my new hard drive that day. Not only didn’t it work, but I made it worse. I got confused about which peripheral was connected where and I couldn’t use my modem, though I could shred lettuce through the printer.
Here I was, a three time failure, pushing my seven year old on her first two wheeler over the hot hot black top, grumbling and beginning to feel like a fourth failure because there was no two wheeled sailing going on this afternoon. “Don’t let me go, Daddy,” D said to me.
“Maybe you need to go back to training wheels,” I heard myself say. There was impatience in my voice. “No, Daddy, I had training wheels.” I’m puff puffing up and down the black top, the teal bike wobbling under my touch and certain to go down if I let go. We need training wheels, I was thinking, and the next thing I heard was a specially created voice, not at all like my own, speaking words I did not at first recognize.
The voice was coming from me, but it was no longer impatient and a three time failure, this was the voice of a zen rider, a master teacher of wheeling, the grand rabbi of cruising paused and poised for the holy moment of breakthrough the first experience of free flight, making a memory for my daughter that some day will be as deep and as old for her as my memory of my first bike ride is for me. These are the words that the road rabbi the great zen master of momentum spoke, “find your center, keep your balance, stay in your center.”
Stay in your center. I said it over and over as I let go with one hand and held only the back of her seat with the other. Stay in your center. Then I heard D say, ever so quietly but firmly, “you can let go now.” I let go and there she was off on her maiden voyage, sailing down the black top on her first two wheeled bike ride, having found her center.
“I’m riding, I’m riding!” I heard her howling as I ran behind her. Later that night at dinner she motioned to the chair next to her, “I want to sit next to Daddy.”
Who had the greater experience? Me, no longer a three time failure, not a plumber, not a mechanic, not a computer technician, but a master zen rabbi, or D, who had conquered space for the first time and sailed down the black top on two wheels?
“I’m riding, I’m riding!” she cried. Everything is possible even for a three time loser who in a moment became a master mentor of flight, everything possible when in one moment a seven year old fledgling wobbling around on a teal bicycle finds her center and sails down the black top chasing the wind on her first voyage.
Everything is possible, even with the hard case scenario, the pure possibility of every difficult transformation. From one moment to the next might be concealed the transformation that is accessible to everyone. This means you never give up on anyone. This means that the possibilities for repair and reconciliation, transformation and reclamation, are always present. You never give up on anyone. Especially the hard case stories. I consider myself such a story. If I could get it, anybody could get it.
It’s about the possibilities inherent in each moment. Take D, for example. On the day she learned to ride, she found her center and settled there, sprouted wings, and began to fly. It is a day she will never forget.