I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling slightly uncertain lately. Maybe it’s just a symptom of being alive in the world today, or a possible vitamin deficiency, but sometimes I just want to run into the hills and hide.
Recently, a friend offered to lend me her bike for a while. I’ve wanted one for ages, but haven’t had the money to buy one, or frankly, the patience to scan a used bike for deformities. So this little red beach cruiser fell into my lap, and I was ecstatic. What a find! I’ve always wanted a beach cruiser. When I was 16, I would have given anything to drift around town with my bicycle, its basket hanging cutely on the handlebars, waiting patiently for a bunch of freshly picked flowers to hold. That’s another thing about bikes–they really are a fashion accessory. At least in Europe, some of the coolest outfits I’ve seen were worn by people on bikes, proving to me once and for all that coolness really is a lifestyle.
Anyway, back to the bike. The tires were flat, so I had to push it from a tram, to a train, to a bus, and then walk it to the bike shop. I was relieved to hear that the bike was in great shape, and after a quick bit of doctoring, the tires were ready to bear my weight. I rolled my sweet new ride out onto the sidewalk, and that’s when I realized: I had no idea what I was doing. I don’t drive, so the rules of the road aren’t exactly second nature to me. And I couldn’t possibly be fluid on a bike like those helmet-less people who glide beside traffic without a thought.
So, what’s a girl to do?
I realized that I had to relearn to ride a bike. They say you never forget it, but they didn’t take into account the addition of traffic lights and angry taxi drivers. How do you stop at a traffic light and then start going again? How do I keep from bumping into the curb when there’s a car so close to my side that I could reach out and high five the passenger? And for the love of all that is good and holy, how do I turn into oncoming traffic? I’m just a bag of bones and organs on a stick with two wheels, facing the brute force of a giant metal cage, roaring toward me at full speed, driven by another bag of bones and organs who is probably late for something.
Knowing I would be docked at least 10 coolness points for style, I went out and bought myself a helmet. And then a bell, to ring at pedestrians with authority when they’re treading on the bike path. Off I went, into the maze of concrete, my head pounding with anxiety as I watched the other bikers move with confidence between cars, weaving through flocks of pedestrians, commanding sidewalks even though they’re not supposed to. And there I was, so wobbly with fear, that I nearly slammed my wheel into a parked car beside me. I can see the headline now, “Girl Causes 50 Car Pileup with Beach Cruiser, Good Try, Maybe Stay Inside”.
I embarrassed myself. I made people angry. I felt silly, and probably looked a bit silly trembling on a beach cruiser.
In the middle of the city, other lives buzzing around me, the noise of engines blustering from behind, it’s never been harder for me to fight my insecurities and focus on learning. To focus on building a skill. To simply enjoy something, not once feeling the pressure of eyes on me, not worrying what people might think if I make a mistake. I needed that experience to remind me that it’s okay to feel unsure of yourself, because you’re a living, breathing, changing being, and so is everyone else. Feeling nervous, or even terrified, isn’t a bad thing. Yes, you will feel your heartbeat in your ears, you will probably shake and sweat and want turn back. But maybe, like me, you will
have this nagging feeling in your chest that won’t let you quit, because this, along with a great many things, is something you can conquer.
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not the absence of it.” -Mark Twain
(Don’t forget to wear a helmet.)