Tuesday, August 04, 2009

My sister is the first born in our family. She needs to be the strongest, the smartest, the one in charge of every activity. When I first talked her into riding a mile or two with me, she struggled. She hasn't done any kind of consistent exercise in 20 years; she has issues with her lungs; she's overweight; she's 56; her bike was ancient. She went along, but she was always far behind me, no matter what I did. Each time we reached our destination, she seemed ready to collapse. She was not having fun.

And then Deb got a new bike. The first night with the new bike, she kept up throughout the ride. I stopped to call our dad, who was picking us up at the park, and she never looked back. If it had been dark, I could have found the park by the light of Deb's smile, which is a rare sight. She was first again, and she was having fun. Now I routinely find reasons to stop somewhere along the path, and she arrives first. The difference this makes in her can scarcely be believed.

My brother is the only boy in our family. He and my sister butt heads in big ways because Jeff, too, needs to be the wheel horse, the strongest, the leader. On Saturday when we rode together, I started off in front of him. He hadn't ridden a bike in a decade and had never been on a trail--it only seemed natural. A mile or so into it, I'd heard nothing from him but snorts and aggravation. Nothing big or rude, mind you, just small signs that he was not enjoying himself. I slowed down to evaluate a cattle guard crossing, and he yelled, "Just go, damn it!"

After the cattle guard, I pulled to the edge of the trail. "Do you mind going first?" I asked. "I'd rather follow you across the guards and bridges."

His attitude did an immediate 180. He graciously pointed out ruts and small obstacles. He shouted back advice about some of the tricker bridge crossings. He was clearly enjoying himself from that moment on.

On the way back, the path was a very gradual incline, and I could see him gasping for air and struggling to keep going. "Can we stop in the next shady spot?" I yelled. "Sure," he answered. Five minutes later, after he'd caught his breath, he wiped his face and neck and asked if I was okay to go on. "I think so," I said. (We went a total of 12 miles. I do 15 much tougher miles nearly every day.)

I don't know what any of this means—their need to be first and best or my willingness to be last to make them happy. I do know that not needing to show my strength does not mean it doesn't exist. And I know it costs me nothing to let others show theirs. Maybe the rest is just details.


kario said...

I'm grinning here, my friend! And I'm keeping track of this post to give to my youngest daughter as she gets older.

Love you and your ever-widening circle of bicycle riding!

Anonymous said...

I think you've shown one of your strengths in allowing others to show theirs.
No, it doesn't cost you anything, but now you've gained willing bike partners!


Michelle O'Neil said...

I think the question is...did your actions make you feel larger or smaller?

It doesn't seem like you diminished yourself here.

Wisdom, baby. You've got it in spades.

Mercurious said...

Emotional maturity...

So that's what it looks like.

Any way I can get some?

BONNIE K said...

I wonder what would happen if your brother and sister rode together, without you. Disaster?

Jerri said...

Great question, Bonnie. I wish I could get them together to ride--it might heal some old wounds. They barely speak to each other after one too many battles about who's in charge.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Hmmm... yes.

George said...

Bike riding is such a healing thing. It can reveal so many strengths and weaknesses of character and resolve and physicality. I used to love riding in groups. I adhered to the notion that in my rides, nobody gets dropped.

Amber said...

Oh, I love you. You teach me more than you know.



Deb Shucka said...

I feel a book looming in these stories. Life's lessons learned from the seat of a bike. I agree with Michelle - as long as the giving didn't diminish you ( and it sure doesn't sound like it did) you gave them huge gifts.