Riding a bicycle has always been something I’ve loved. As a child, jumping onto my bike – complete with its banana seat and handle bars with streamers flying out of them – provided me such a sense of freedom. As soon as I started turning the pedals over, my world opened up ahead of me, and I felt such liberation in flying around my neighborhood, exploring places I thought I couldn’t reach on foot. My bicycle became a vital part of my childhood experience.
Then adulthood hit – at a young age for me for a myriad of reasons – so I parked my bicycle, got married, and set about raising my kids. A bicycle didn’t reappear in my life until about six years ago when my grown son invited me to get back in the saddle. And what a wonderful invitation that turned out to be! Yes, it looked a bit different now; the addition of a sleek-looking road bike, clip-on pedals and shoes, helmet, gloves, and the sometimes very unflattering spandex biking garb replaced the banana seat and streamers. But the thrill of the ride carried on, and I soon found myself hooked again. At the end of each winter since that invitation, I looked eagerly forward to the first hint of warmth (I haven’t developed a love for riding in the cold yet!), so I could get my bike down, pump up the tires, and hit the road again for another season. Riding became a time for me to challenge myself, to push the limits of what I thought my body and mind could do, and to relish that sweet sense of freedom that I came to love as a child.
Until this year, when the tragedy of loss and grief hit long before the season of spring even had a chance to make its appearance. My bicycle never made it down from its hanging perch in the garage. It hung abandoned, as did much of my life, as I dove headfirst into the unchartered and all-encompassing territory of grief. As many of you unfortunately know, grief is exhausting – it sucks up much of your vital energy; it calls on you to realign all the ways you did your life; it challenges you to grab back anything you can that feels normal and reliable. It’s as if grief taunts you into believing that not only did you lose someone you loved, but you are also going to lose yourself.
So I’ve been fighting to find some semblance of my life back. And today, for whatever reason, I felt called to get my bicycle down, to pump up its tires, and to climb aboard. I have to admit, this felt scary to me. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it again, that I wouldn’t enjoy it like I used to, that this part of my life might just be over as well. I even felt afraid that something bad would happen to me if I chose to be so vulnerable as to ride on the road again.
But I did it – I donned my helmet and gloves, clicked my shoes into the pedals, and started slowly turning those pedals around. It was hard at first, this climbing back into the saddle. I hadn’t moved my body like this in a long time; instead, I’d been tending my grief with too much food and too little exercise (no self-judgment here, just compassionate truth). After a couple of miles, however, it started feeling good – it actually started feeling great! As I hit one of my favorite long hills to climb, I started experiencing that sweet sense of freedom down into the depths of my soul, and when I did, I began to weep. I mean I really began to weep – the tears streaming, snot running kind of crying (sorry for the graphic image, but it feels like an important one to me). I wept for all the loss I’m in, but I also wept triumphantly for the part of me that I was claiming back from grief.
I’d love to say that this experience today will have me leave grief in the dust, that I’ll simply climb back onto the saddle and ride off into the proverbial sunset. Unfortunately I don’t see that happening. Grief is going to be my companion for quite some time. Instead, I believe today was about helping me see that I don’t have to relinquish my entire life to grief. I can choose to take some pieces back. For now, I’ll plan on getting back in the saddle and riding alongside my grief. Perhaps, together, we can explore places we never thought we’d get to on foot.