Sometime around 1964 - I don't remember exactly when because I was four years old and I forgot to mark it on the calendar - I learned how to ride a bike. I don't remember my parents being involved. They had 11 children to look after, so unless you were bleeding at my house, you were pretty much on your own. But down the street lived my best friend, and her father helped teach me. At one point, he was holding on to the back of the seat, running along behind me, and I was calling out, "Don't let go, Mr. Compertore!" The next thing I knew, I was sailing down the sidewalk, albeit wobbling and terrified, with Mr. Compertore nowhere in sight.
Riding my bike is one of the few pleasures I discovered in my childhood that I still enjoy. So today when I woke up to a sunny Thanksgiving with the temperatures in the 50s, I decided that the best way to express my gratitude would be to go for a spin on my old Schwinn, aka "the cruiser."
Someone in the neighborhood was burning a log fire and the smoky sweetness of it tickled my nostrils. I turned up the music and pedaled a little faster. I let go of the handlebars, just to see if I could keep my balance. I did. I rode across the bridge that goes over the highway and I waved to all of the motorists below, just to see if they would wave back. They didn't. I sang out loud. I stopped at the playground and went on the swings. I closed my eyes, imagining what it would feel like to fly. I brought my swing to a stop and did that twisty thing with the chain, releasing myself into a wild spin.
Today, I felt free in a way that I haven't in a very long time. It was like going back in time and reliving a morning of my childhood with nothing in sight except the sky and the road and the open day ahead. It seemed a little like heaven. Jesus once said that unless we become like little children, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven, so I guess that means if we can become childlike we'll get a glimpse into life the way God intended it to be. Joyful and free.
One of the greatest freedoms we experience as children is the freedom from carrying the emotional burdens of others. But it doesn't last very long. At least it didn't for me. I learned very early on that if someone around me was unhappy it was quite possibly because of something I did, and even if it wasn't, it was still my responsibility to try and fix it. Along the way here and there I picked up problems that weren't mine to solve and worries that I had no power to ease, and by the time I was an adult, I was like a pack mule for the lame and brokenhearted. This burden violated my sense of fair play, but I didn't know how to give any of it back. So I trudged along, backed bowed, feet on fire, hoping that everyone would one day take back their crap and go home.
Needless to say, they didn't. Why would they? Why carry your own load when someone else is so willing to do it for you?
Over time, by Grace, and through many painful experiences I finally learned how to give people back their own burdens, how to release them in love, how to allow them to face the consequences of their own choices. My childlike joy and sense of freedom this morning was a celebration of my saddle bags, finally empty except for the few things I carry for myself.
As I look at the road behind me, I can see how futile was my effort to be anyone's savior, and even how foolish the desire to do so. Like if Mr. Compertore had listened to me, if he had worried too much about my temporary well-being to let go of the seat of my bike, and just agreed to run behind me until I was no longer afraid. Which, by the way, never would have happened. The longer he would have held on, the more afraid of riding on my own I would have become. It is the prospect of doing something scary on your own that is the source of fear, and it is the sailing on down the street that triumphs over it and leads you to the next great adventure life has to offer. It is not my place to deprive others of that accomplishment, of that joy.
And so I let go, and so I ride on.
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