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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankfulness

"Smile every chance you get. Not because
life has been easy, perfect, or exactly as you
had anticipated, but because you choose to be 
happy and grateful for all the good things you do have
and all the problems you know you don't have."
Unknown author



Deep in my heart I know that creating for myself a culture of gratefulness for my many blessings will enrich my life in incalculable  ways and is one path to greater satisfaction and will enhance my life. Experience has taught me that.  I have worked for  people who are incapable of being grateful figuring that you are paid for what you do and that is gratitude enough.  I have worked for those who regularly express their appreciation for loyalty and hard work.  The same with friends and relatives.   The power of the words, "Thank You," when sincerely said, never fails to amaze me.  Perhaps Machiavelli is right and fear is more motivating in the long run.  I was sure of this in my youth.  But things no longer seem so clear cut.  Strange, you would think age would make things less rather than more muddled.  Sometimes it seems the older I get the less clear cut things have become.

I have much to be grateful for in my life, and part of my New Year's resolution will be to continue to strive to create a culture of gratitude and to let those in my life know how very special they are to me, how close to my heart.  

I am thankful for my husband, the man who has supported me through thick and thin, the man who bought me my first bicycle, who encouraged me to complete triathlons and to do PBP, to take on new challenges and not worry so much about failure.

He has the courage to tell me when he thinks I am wrong, but to still to be there for me.  I prize his honesty even if it sometimes stings.  The love behind it makes it much more palatable, and I always know where I stand.  I grin thinking of the one anniversary or Valentine's Day.  Coming home from work I find a card and some flowers.  He asks if I would like to go out to eat, and of course I say yes.  He takes me to a nice restaurant, and I am feeling so very special and loved.  I am thinking that he will get thanked later that evening, when we get home.  He looks at me across the candlelit table and gently says, "I think you are starting to grow a mustache."  I am taken back, but immediately burst into embarrassing loud guffaws of laughter and tell him how the women of this world owe me a great debt of gratitude for taking him off the market.  As a young bride, those words would have destroyed me, but the safety net of his love and knowing that he would never be purposely cruel to me gave  me the ability to find the humor and to create a memory that I treasure.  I would long have forgotten that dinner had it not been for his sincerity and knowing it was meant with love.  While our marriage, like any other, has not been all peaches and creams and sometimes seemed on the verge of toppling, I am thankful for his presence in my life.

I am thankful for my children.  They have enriched my life in countless ways and have been and continue to be blessings.  They have taught me many life lessons such as how you can hurt for someone else as much or more that you would hurt for yourself, about how sacrifice can bring untold rewards, about family and what it means to be bonded by the adhesive of caring and love.  Together we have memories that warm me.  One Mother's Day my daughter gave me a "Memory Jar" she had created.  A decorated jar filled with papers on which she had written about memories she had of our times together.  A woman where she works told her she would not like such a present, that she wanted something bought from a store.  To me, the present is like gold.  While I have been through those memories many times, occasionally I still  pull out a paper and take a walk backwards in time. I have a son who, despite the distance and his busy schedule, takes the time to comfort me when he knows I am hurting about something, who comes home at Christmas.

I am thankful for my health.  There are many who do not have this blessing.  I am thankful for my home, and my job, and my friends.  I am thankful for laughter, for food on the table, for family.  I am thankful for the cats and the amusement they bring to the house, and I am thankful that I am strong enough through loss to open myself to possible new pain down the road.  I am thankful for my bicycles and the many gifts they have brought me:  new experiences, new friendships, new ideas. 

So, on this Thanksgiving, I say thank you to those in my  life and to my creator.  I will try to do a  better job of appreciating you and of being sure that you know exactly how very much you mean to me.  I will continue to strive to create for myself a world of gratitude and thankfulness and to not take things for granted anyone or anything, and perhaps even come to realize that those things that I would prefer not to happen sometimes needed to happen, for without sunshine we would not appreciate the rain, and without rain, sunshine would lose some of its richness.  As Graham Nash once said in a song, "Grow a little taller even though your age defies." Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.  May you always recognize your blessings and be grateful.  There are, indeed, problems you don't have.  Pray for those who do.



Sunday, November 17, 2013

November 2013

"Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter
what they tell you, it's not because they enjoy solitude.
It is because they have tried to blend into the world
before, and people continue to disappoint them."
Jodi Picault

Today I will not ride the club ride, but will do my own thing.  I feel some guilt in this as originally I was the one who put the ride on the club schedule, but I did not force anyone to take it over.  Jody was just nice enough to volunteer.  I was perfectly willing to cancel it if nobody volunteered. I have more than fulfilled any obligation that I have toward the bicycle club I have ridden with and I would feel no guilt at canceling.  I have been disappointed yet again as people bend rules to suit their desires, and it will take me time to make my peace and deal with the loss of respect I have for some I considered friends. Changing rules appropriately does not bother me, but breaking rules does. Ridiculously asserting that there never was a rule makes it even worse.  But perhaps I don't see my own faults and shortcomings, and maybe rigidity is one of those faults. In essence, for better or worse, I am a rule follower and believe that some things are just plain wrong despite our efforts to convince ourselves otherwise.  The emperor can say he has fancy new clothes all he wants, but to me he still looks pretty darned naked.  In the end, we have to live with ourselves, and I have done plenty of things that have brought shame upon me. As I prepare to ride, I think of a quote from one of my favorite movies, "A Man for All Seasons:"
“Thomas More: ...And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you--where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast--man's laws, not God's--and if you cut them down...d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.”  

This leads me then to think of the rest of the movie, More's incarceration and his interaction with his wife during that incarceration, a scene I consider one of the most poignant of movie scenes.  And I think of my own recent losses and the losses to come.  Recently I lost my sweet little Meg Pi, and sadness yet again lays me low, my own culpability a scourge. Recently I lost my aunt, the next to last aunt and the one for whom I was named, the one who gave me back my father's side of the family.  Recently I lost a step-son. I have often said that God made teenagers the way they are so that we can bear the grief when they move out onto their own.  And perhaps this is God's way of preparing me for my own demise:  losing others and watching those I love grow old.  Time to move on, time to ride.  Riding will bring solace and time to think.  Riding will help me to mourn and heal.  Riding, hopefully, will bring acceptance. I shudder at the thought of a day when I will no longer be able to think and process and find consolation in the soothing yet demanding arms of my bicycle.

My Kindle predicts that it will be windy, yet warm day for November.  Today the ride I pick will determine the bicycle that I ride for I intend to climb the dreaded hill on Cox Ferry Road, the one that has brought so many cyclists off their pedals and onto their feet, cleats sliding and protesting at walking such a hill, but leg muscles demanding relief.  Yes, today I will ride my Lynskey triple giving myself that respite,  but I will not walk the hill.  I have walked the hill before and I have climbed the hill before it in my middle ring, but today the only demand I will make on myself is not to get off the bicycle.  Today I vow I will be kind to myself.

I pull out into a gray world, a sun chidden world,  remembering to wear orange as it is hunting season and I will be on many roads frequented by deer hunters.  The roads are wet from a nighttime rain.  I double think my bicycle decision because this bike is clean and the cold weather will make washing it more difficult, but I decide to go ride on.  Dawn has just surfaced and as it is a Saturday, most houses are still sleeping peacefully;  I wonder about those of us who haunt the mornings on our bicycles and the runners who haunt the silent, early morning roads.  I wonder if this ride will be drudgery or rewarding:  I know it will be difficult with the wind and nobody to share the wind with.  Before long I have my answer as I find myself entranced with the beauty of the world.  Even though the leaves are mostly gone the trees are beautiful, graceful and long limbed, dancing with their unseen partner, the wind.  Wooly worms line the road, and I wonder if there is any truth to being able to predict the coming winter from their wooly coverings.  The fields are mostly harvested, but those that are not are empty and waiting for the scurrying farmer to arrive. Yes, I miss the color of the other three seasons, but this scenery also has its place.


I am right about the hunters.  On Eden Road and Delaney Park, pick up trucks dot the side of the road, bright blobs in a muted landscape.  I come upon one hunter walking the road, no deer in tow, gun pointed toward the ground, head bowed, and I warn him that I am passing on his left. Disappointment in his lack of a kill gives off an aura of disappointment.  There is a freezer to fill.  It never does to startle someone with a gun that might be loaded though.  It is hard to imagine a road that is worse after having pavement fixes than it was prior to being fixed, but such is the case with part of Eden Road.  Farm machinery or something has scarred the pavement into ruts and my bike bumps and jostles, shocking knees and wrists.  I know it is only for a few miles though, and the lack of traffic on the road combined with stunning scenery makes it worthwhile.

Before you know it I am at the Red Barn.  The parking lot is filled as people bring in their deer for checking and weighing.  Amos, as usual, is welcoming and I realize I have developed a quasi-friend here.  No, I would not  pour my heart out to him, but he would help if ever I should need it.  The laughter of the hunters and their pride in providing for themselves fills the air and I shamelessly eavesdrop as they talk of pictures with their kill.  One hunter briefly teases me about my bright orange attire as compared to his camouflage, and I tease back that I don't want to find myself in the back of someone's pick up truck with a bullet through my heart.  Hunting is not my thing, but bicycling is not their thing.  And these are people who use what they kill.  Not being vegetarian like my children, I have no moral ground here to be upset at their enjoyment of what they do or their pride at feeding their families.   I attempt to call my husband to tell him about a local shooting range I have discovered where they have board shoots on week-ends, but I discover that there is no cell service here, at least for my cheap Trac phone.  Knowing the wind will be wearing me down, impacting my speed, and daylight is short, I quickly down a Snickers Bar and a drink and move on. 

The hill approaches.  I have already climbed a nice hill to get to the Red Barn, but it is not like this hill.  It is long, but it is not so steep that it hurts.  This hill will hurt.  Even using my triple, it will hurt.  My legs will scream and curse at me, my heart will thud heavily against my chest, my breathing will become deep and ragged, and my mind will become traitorous  questioning why I am doing this and urging me to just get off and walk.  As my friend, Paul, once told me, there are those times during certain rides where you would sell your beloved bike to the first person who came along and offered you a ride home;-)  And this may be one of those times.

One thing I love about this hill is that unlike most of the ride that is rolling, it comes after a flat section.  When you approach the hill, it is foreshadowed and hidden by the growth of trees.  I grin thinking of past  rides and the cries going from rider to rider, "Triple alert." And before you know it, I reach the top without walking. There is a core nugget of satisfaction, of a job well done, of success, of still being strong enough to complete the climb. The strong wind beats on me the rest of the way to the store, as if she is angry that I was successful.  Helmet straps that are too long and have not been trimmed whip nosily against the side of my helmet.  As the wind slaps me, doing her best to block my passage, I realize and accept my weakness.  I can't fight it.  I can only accept it and ride on my consolation being that where the wind is now slapping me, it will push me on my return as I have decided to return via the route I came.  And I think that is what I must and should do about the weakness of others.  Then perhaps I can be more forgiving of myself.

When I reach the Mennonite Store, "The Dutch Barn,"  where I will have lunch, I suddenly realize I am scantily clad.  Yes, I am covered from toe to head, but when I first dressed this morning I intended to use tights rather than leg warmers.  Thus, I put on shorts that are mostly worn out as I thought they would be covered by the tights.  Cycling shorts are so expensive, I struggle with throwing them out. When I changed my mind from tights to warmers, I forgot to change my shorts, however, and left on my see through version.   This would be bad enough at any store, but at this store where women are all in dresses that reach mid calf or longer, I would feel absolutely naked.  Even wicked.  But I need to eat and there is no other restaurant nearby.  Little Twirl is closed for the season.  I think of a solution.  I take off one of my tops, tie the arms around my waist, and cover my bottom. 

Leaving the store, the wind initially is with me and I am cruising along in the low 20's with no effort on my part. I am not naive enough to believe it will last long, but I will enjoy it while I have it.  Farmers are now in their fields trying to get in as much as they can today.  Rain and even stronger winds are predicted tomorrow, and the withering plants may bow tomorrow scattering their bounty on the ground where it can't be harvested.  Twice I have to dismount and get off the road to allow the passage of road wide farm machinery. Occasionally I hear the rustling noises of silos being filled.  And all around me there is heart-wrenching beauty.

As I ride I think that I am at one of those times in my life when you realize how limited your time is and that it would be prudent to look at your life and how you can spend what time is left wisely.  That is time to decide what relationships I want to recommit to and maintain and which should be left to wither and die.  A recent possible cancer scare may have magnified this concern, this melancholy,  but thankfully the labs were negative.  I think about how I want to spend my time and about those people I want to share my limited time here with.  By the end of the ride, I still am not sure.  But I am sure that I want to continue to ride.  I am sure that I want to continue to see  the loveliness of this world, the absolute magnificence of this world, in that way that only seeing the world upon a bicycle seems to bring.  I am sure that I want to continue to maintain some of the relationships that I have made through riding even if it means accepting that others, like me, may not be perfect. As Adrienne Rich  once said in a line that has always moved me, "Our lovers failed us when most we sought perfection."   I am sure that I want to continue to make new friends through riding.  And I am sure that I will heal with time, that recent pains will not be so tender and raw but will scab over.  Yes, the losses will be there.  The losses will mold me as all experiences mold us, leaving a wrinkle here, a character change or magnification there, and a scar upon an already battered human heart, forming who I am.  And Picault is both right and wrong, because there is a time and place for solitude for this loner.