Remembering How Easily We Forget.


I rode a bike every day for two years. I did it in the miserable Georgia heat. I did it while gallons upon gallons of water poured out of the sky and onto my head. I did it wearing a suit and tie. It was the sort of physical and practical challenge that seeps into every bit of your daily life no matter how menial. Like getting groceries; how do you plan to get them home? The Laundromat? How about an important presentation five miles away and dark storm clouds are gathering overhead? What about the winter when it gets dark at 5 o’clock? I lived with those questions, and the challenge of answering them, every day for two whole years. That was nearly twenty years ago. I will never forget it.missionbikewreck1

With all that in mind I recently started riding a bike every morning. I teach a class of high schoolers early in the morning and the idea of saving some gas money and spending some calories made sense. I didn’t make this decision flippantly; I put some real thought into it. I remembered what it was like to ride a bike to get somewhere, as opposed to riding for pure recreation. I knew what I was getting into.

But not really.

I remembered all sorts of little details, I could recount stories, I knew stuff. But it wasn’t till I began pedaling a fixed gear tank with all 250 lbs of me on top, up a giant hill, into a headwind, did I really remember riding a bike.

As my thighs swelled and tightened, and blood rushed to my face, true memory flooded my mind and soul. I remembered riding a bike. It hurt. A lot. Stashing my bike in the closet of the classroom with a sweaty shirt sticking to my arms, worrying that I was such a disgusting display of humanity that no one would ever listen to a thing I had to teach; I remembered riding a bike.IMG_3219

It gave me something to think about as I pedaled back home. How easily we forget.

I haven’t seen a homeless person in months.

Back where I used to live, there was this guy in a wheelchair that used to wheel down the middle of our small street collecting discarded scraps of metal. He was dirty. The kind of dirty you can’t fake with a one day roll in the dust, you have to compile this kind of dirt the hard way. It was a regular part of my day to sit in the car waiting for him to wheel his way across the street, or to the end of the block, so I could get my car to where I needed to go.

I used to spend hours on the phone with the local electric company, while a little old lady would sit on the couch next to me sobbing, a past due notice in her shaky hands. I do not have enough fingers to count the number of people I visited regularly that heated their homes by turning the oven on high and leaving the oven door open. It is the poor person’s version of a fireplace. Every day, at least for a moment, I would have to not only see poverty, but interact with it just a little. Sometimes a lot. It was as much a part of my life as that bike used to be.grimysteps

Pedaling past palm trees on my way to the swimming pool, I wonder how much I have already forgotten.

I read a scripture today in which the resurrected Jesus took bread and wine, passed it to those who were with him, and instructed them to eat it in order to remember him. Remember him? Not only was he right there with them, but these people had just watched this resurrected man descend from the sky in a cloud of light. They had just gone up and touched the holes in his hands, feet, and side. This was God’s son in all his glory. How could they ever forget?

But he knew they would. We can’t help it. Even when we can recall what happened, feelings fade. There is something in the remembering that fades. Jesus, on the first day of this remarkable visit, told them he would be back tomorrow, then, before saying goodnight, set up the taking of bread and wine as a process by which we should remember him. He told them to repeat this ceremony often.

Because we forget.

How can I expect myself or anyone to remember what true poverty is like if we aren’t in it? How can anyone who hasn’t been in it ever really comprehend how hard it is? It is like riding that bike up the hill, remembering how hard it is, is nothing compared to feeling the tight burning in my legs. Many who have lived in it before, been raised in it, struggled to escape it, are going to at some level forget it. The memory will fade into stories, events, recollections, but not the same feelings.

Unless we do something. Not just remember, but do.IMG_2769

Unless we somehow eat the bread and drink the wine. Unless we sit on the couch and call the electric company. Unless we help wheelchair man pick up the pile of tin cans he just spilled all over the street. Not only will we forget, but the poor will be completely forgotten.

And no one really escapes poverty on their own.

Mission Tales, Bicycles

 I was excited to ride a bike. 

Remind me why I was excited again?

In retrospect I had no appreciation for all this mode of transport entailed, but riding a bike is such a part of the lore of Mormon missionaries that I just had to have the full experience.  Bike riding is such a part of being a missionary that I have often had to explain to others that cycling isn’t actually part of the religion.  Missionaries ride bikes because they are cheaper than cars.  Some lucky missionaries get to drive cars.  For 21 of my 24 months, I was not one of the lucky ones.

The first thing I did not consider, was the same thing others who haven’t cycled in suits haven’t considered; my pant leg.  It is the role of a missionary’s first companion to more or less show one the ropes.  The mark of a compassionate soul or a devious one is whether or not this senior companion tells the junior to tuck his pant leg into his sock before it is torn to shreds by the bike’s chain.  My first bike ride was also my first destroyed pair of pants, followed by my first sewing lesson.

In my romance of cycling adventure I also failed to consider humidity.  Being a native of a desert clime I had no appreciation for humidity.  Humidity had no appreciation for me either, nor the fact that that the dress code called for a tie at all times.  I also had not thought about rain.  I learned to hate rain. Rain led to my first actual crash. 

We were caught some miles from home when the clouds broke open. They poured out buckets rather than drops.  These buckets soon turned the gutters into flash floods and I found myself caught up descending a rather steep hill in one of these flash floods unable to stop.  I pumped the brakes, gripped tight the brakes, and quickly realized I was simply along for the ride.  How fun.  At the base of the hill was a surprisingly wide and steep culvert towards which this torrent was channeled.  When my tire hit the culvert it stopped and I did a most amazing leap frog over the handle bars, landing a perfect ten on my feet in the knee deep water.  My graceful dismount was followed by the reward of carrying a bike with a taco shaped wheel the last mile home.

Flat tires were regular but unremarkable.

In all those months and all those miles I only had one crash where I did not land on my feet.  I landed on another missionary.

I was under the impression that Georgia (where I served) was flat.  Coming from the Rockies, I turned my nose up at those hills others called mountains; then I tried to cycle up those hills and was humbled.  Being humbled is a process and it is amusing to watch others go through it, but not so much to experience it firsthand.  There was one hill on our regular route that was especially laborious.  Each week four of us missionaries would have to work our way up that hill to get to a training meeting.  We were a competitive bunch and had trouble doing anything at a leisurely pace. I soon learned how to take advantage of the competitiveness of others by starting a race on the approach to the hill and then “getting tired” a little less than half way up.  I would drift to the back of the pack, tuck right in behind the last rider, and let the group’s draft pull me easily up the rest of the way.  It was some time before the others figured out why I always had that burst of energy at the top and would shoot well past everyone with a laugh.

This practice of drafting soon led to pranks.  Riding mtn. bikes on roads is best done with the seat set up high forcing the rider into a more road friendly posture.  We found it funny to sneak up behind our companions and flip the quick release on the seat post, dropping the rider’s tail unexpectedly.  My companion, a rather fiery and contentious fellow, had fallen victim to this trick and became wary.  He was wary of the seat trick, but had not yet learned the drafting trick, and soon found himself “winning” the race up the hill.  I was at the back of this swift moving tightly packed train when the leader looked back over his shoulder to taunt those of us behind.

While turning back his head he also turned the handlebars hard left.  I would not recommend doing this while pedaling at full speed and especially not while others are only inches behind.  Bike number one was T-boned by bike number two. Number two was rammed by number three, and I, number four, was sent sailing over the top of them all, landing in perfect push-up position over the top of cyclist number one.Black top is not fun to do pushups upon.  That is the day I started wearing gloves.