I have seen two people fall off their bikes in the last week. I am not proud of this. Watching someone fall off their bike is awkward. My first instinct is usually to turn my head the other way and pretend I saw nothing. Twiddle my thumbs, look at the sky. Anything to avoid the ugly reality that I’ve just witnessed a wipeout. And it’s so confusing. I’m thinking – I don’t want to seem insensitive if the person actually hurt themselves. But I sure as hell don’t want to bring even more humiliation to this unfortunate human. Let’s face it. Falling off your bike is embarrassing. Watching someone else fall off their bike: equally as embarrassing.
As wee ones falling off our bikes, it’s totally different. We skin our knee, we cry, and someone comes to the rescue with kisses to make it all better. No one laughs. You don’t feel embarrassed. You relish in the love and attention this fall just got you. But as you get older, harsher realities follow. No quick rescues. No kisses. More laughs. More embarrassment. And you’re told to brush it off and get back on again. And so we do. Over and over and over again. Until our belief becomes that if we fall, we brush off our bums and get back up again.
The first guy I saw fall off his bike did just that. And let me tell you, he fell hard. He took a curve little too quick and fell right off the side of his bike like a domino. For real. And the worst part of it (well, the worst part of it for me) was that it happened right in front of me. Like, no room to twiddle my thumbs. No time to look at the sky. I know his shoulder had to hurt like hell but he played by the rules. He got up, brushed off his bum, picked up his bike, and got ready for another go. But then his wingman stopped him. Rules started to break. You see, the young man I watched go down was one in a pair of the Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints missionaries. He was not alone. They chatted among themselves holding their bikes as we approached them. I would’ve rather turned and walked the other way but I must say, this young man handled it quite gracefully, and I left that experience feeling humbled and clutching a card with instructions on how to research my ancestry. Maybe I’ll work on that while my mouth is shut. Huh. That’s an idea. Who am I kidding? That’s not likely to happen.
The next person I watched topple over went a little differently. This time I was driving 55 miles an hour down a busy highway. And I’ll tell you, if this woman wouldn’t have been wearing the brightest lime green shirt I’d ever seen, I surely would’ve missed it. Clearly, God had big plans when she got dressed that morning. This poor lady took a tumble right as she was coming off the sidewalk onto the pavement and I winced when I saw her. She hit even harder than domino and I know she must have been so embarrassed as cars rushed past her. But as I looked in the rearview mirror, I saw that she kept in step with the belief, too. She stood up, brushed off her bum, leaned over to pick up her bike, and then she was out of my sight.
As I drove away, all this bike falling really got me thinking about falling off bikes. And I realized that I fall off my bike all the time. If we’re being honest, I haven’t actually been on my bike since the day I got my bike last Christmas. Ok, maybe one more time after that. Definitely not more. But figuratively, I can name at least four instances where I fallen off my bike in the same week that I’ve witnessed two others crash and burn. And they’ve all been embarrassing.
Like when I tried really hard not to forget the dog was outside long enough for her to crawl under the fence and go exploring. Then the door bell rings. And there stands my neighbor with Nola in her arms. Again. Or when I swore I wouldn’t lose my temper over finding piles of sand on my daughter’s bedroom floor. Until I step in one. And y’all! It’s not pretty. Not my face. Not my words. Nothing. Though, you know, I’m totally blaming that one on the school district because they really need to invest in those bouncy rubber-floored playgrounds. Like stat. I know I’m not the only mama out there who loses their shit over sandy feet, shoes, and floors. Right?
There have also been bigger spills to own up to. Ones where I’ve betrayed those I love the most. Times when I repeated mistakes I swore I’d never do again. Things I’ve said that I’d give anything to take back. Actions so shameful that I don’t even like to admit they’re my own. But I do. I’m happy to share details if you’re interested. Hit me up for coffee sometime. It’ll give me a chance to practice my talking. Wait, I’m supposed to be listening. Never mind. Don’t hit me up. Unless you want to tell me about your latest collision. Then yes. Totally hit me up.
If you can say you haven’t fallen off your bike recently, good for you. You’re lying. Maybe you’re just lying to yourself. I don’t know. But I can assure you, others have seen your descent. It’s not like we walk around looking for someone to eat it, but when we surround ourselves with people and tribes and families and neighbors and friends and coworkers and even strangers, we make ourselves vulnerable to a witnessing of biting the dust. It’s just the truth. How we handle it is up to us.
There’s something I have to tell you about lime green shirt. As I came back her way a short time later, I saw her sitting on the curb. Her bike laid out next to her. I made a quick exit to the right to see if she was ok. Rolling down my window, I said, “I saw you fall off your bike, ma’am. Are you alright?” And I surprised myself. I was breaking the rules. I wasn’t twiddling my thumbs. Or looking at the sky. I was facing this plunge head on. Her response, “I’m just taking a minute. That really shook me up.” And I’ll be damned. Here she was breaking the rules, too. She may have brushed it off initially but now she was sitting back down. Taking a breather. Waiting it out. She declined my offer of water or assistance or a ride. She had a big scrape down the side of her shin but she gratefully urged me on.
Listening doesn’t always come in the form of words. Sometimes listening comes when we slow down and start noticing more around us. Start spotting people falling off their bikes. Start seeing our own descent. When we take more deep breaths, and stay mindful and present. It’s not easy. In fact it’s nearly impossible for me. I’m like the squirrel and the dog both in my mind and my conversations. And I continue to fall off my bike. Just like you do.
Next time I fumble around trying to avoid the inevitable crash, I think I’m going to take a lesson from domino and lime green shirt. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to have a friend stop me and say, “it’s ok to take a minute.” Or maybe I’ll be kinder to myself. Take a breather. Sit on the curb. Wait it out. Soak in a couple Epsom salt baths. Listen for the next step. And then I’ll hop back on my bike until I stumble all over myself again. It’ll probably only take an hour or so. And when I’m down there, I’ll look around for you. I’ll listen for the crash. And maybe we can take a breather and sit on the curb together. Wait it out. Then when we’re ready, we’ll pick each other up, brush off our bums, and go.