Hello friends ... It has been awhile, but sometimes we need to step away from our norm to refill and experience life from the inside-out so we can grow and deepen our steps wherever He leads. I hope you are well in this new year and that you and your families are blessed to the overflow!
I'm trying a new approach with this blog post. I hope you enjoy this and even more - that this post will speak to you like it did to me Your feedback is most appreciated! Blessings upon you!
Traffic was backed up on my way to work one morning. I assumed it was road work, or worst case scenario, an accident. Yet, no one was directing traffic. There were no emergency vehicles.
Eventually, I saw what was holding all of us captive and making me late for work. It was a petite elderly man, who couldn’t have been any younger than 80 years old, riding a mountain bike. He was peddling slow but steady on the edge of the road. With unbelievably good posture and control, he was focusing intently on the road straight ahead as he grinned, revealing a few missing teeth. The knee pads he wore matched his elbow pads and helmet. His joy was contagious! Any frustration I had running behind schedule quickly melted.
I may never know his story, but even to imagine what it could be inspires me and nudges me back to my passion for creative thinking and creative writing. Here’s where my sense of wonder led me the moment I saw him:
As a boy, he loved to ride his red Schwinn bike. It took him everywhere around town with his friends – to the park, to the ball field, to the store for penny candy, to the back-roads where he and his friends became stunt-riders. Then there were the secret missions they imagined themselves on as war heroes on bikes, stirred up by the real war they were in the midst of – World War 2. Through all his time spent riding his bike, he proudly earned his new nickname, Schwinn.
Their bikes were dented and dinged as much as they scraped their knees or bruised their arms and legs during their adventures. But it all was okay as each scar, every bruise, every dent or ding came with a story that almost always drew crowds of neighborhood kids. Sometimes the stories were never shared but kept secret only between those who were part of it. If only the bike could talk!
As part of the war effort, he and his buddies, dressed in their Boy Scout uniforms, rigged up wagons to their bikes and went through town collecting scrap paper.
As the boy grew into a lanky teen, the bike settled into its resting place in the corner of the garage as the car became his new set of wheels, bringing with new opportunities for him as his buddies to venture even further. Every once in awhile, the boy would nod or say a quick “hey” as he passed by the bike, as if he was greeting an old friend.
A few years passed and the boy, now a young man, joined the military before he was drafted. The Korean War was underway. His car sat side by side the old bike. Helicopters and then his feet became this soldier’s transportation through the jungles of Korea. Unlike some of his close buddies on the warfront, he survived the opponent’s merciless advances and managed to escape physical injury. Yet, without a second thought, he grabbed the wounded one by one and carried them to safety, even those who wore another country’s uniform. To him, the only enemy he truly claimed to have was the enemy of the soul, satan himself.
One of the soldiers he saved was one of his childhood buddies. To keep his friend alert and focused until the medics arrived, he reminded him about their bike-riding adventures. The pain seared through his friend’s body as they laughed, recalling their secret boyhood missions, but it kept him alive at the most crucial time.
“Schwinn,” said his friend as he gasped through the words, “when we get back home, let’s get the old gang together and ride cross country on motorcycles.”
Without hesitation, Schwinn promised to make sure it would happen.
Three years later, Schwinn returned to his life at home. It took a long time before he was free from the discolored war echoes and was able to settle into a new norm. Setting aside his promise, he was content staying right where he was without venturing too far from home. His car barely moved from the garage other than to the grocery store, to church or to work. He was just thankful to be alive.
One spring, he met the one who would become his wife and mother of three children. Preparing to move his belongings from his parent’s home to his new home with his wife, he dug out his old bike buried under heaps of miscellaneous toys and unrealized treasured junk. The bike was much smaller than he remembered. It needed some work, so he got out his tools and began to restore it. A young boy next door watched him intently. The tools occasionally clinked on the cement floor of the garage in between changing worn or broken parts.
Schwinn said nothing to the boy but glanced over at him often and smiled. The same night the bike was finished, Schwinn went to the boy’s home and spent some time talking with the boy’s parents. When the boy went outside to play the next day, the bike sat in his front yard with a note attached to it:
It read, “Your mom and dad said it was okay for you to have this bike. Take care of it, and it will take care of you. Remember to thank your mom and dad. Schwinn.”
The boy was so excited that he tripped up the steps on his way to thank his parents and to tell them he was going for a ride.
After settling into his new home, Schwinn called his friend and made good on his promise. All his buddies and their wives, Schwinn and his wife travelled cross country on motorcycles. Nine months later, Schwinn’s wife gave birth to their first daughter.
The following years were filled with baby buggies, tricycles, scooters, bikes and family trips in the car in between work and other responsibilities.
When Schwinn and his wife retired, they travelled, sometimes by car, but they also enjoyed spending time with family and friends and their church family on small trips by bus and occasionally by train. It was Schwinn’s dream to buy an RV and surprise his wife for her birthday when he was able to save enough in between daily living and their other smaller excursions. But sadly, his wife became ill with a strain of flu their shots weren’t strong enough to hold back, and her heart succumbed.
The few years that passed by were quiet years for him. Schwinn no longer travelled beyond his hometown unless it was to visit with his family or to attend Sunday Worship and an occasional church function, and sometimes he would meet up with a few friends for mall walking – his only chance for exercise. But most of the time he stayed at home. This was his new norm he never expected he’d be living.
Fast forward. It was his 80th birthday. All his family was there - his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There were 21 altogether, including Schwinn. Some of the younger ones were texting and playing games on their I-Pods. Schwinn asked them about school and how often they go outside to play.
“School is okay and don’t get out much,” were their responses.
"Not even to ride bikes?”
“Nah, not really.” In fact, they didn’t own bikes as they had no interest in them as they got older.
He started with his usual, “I remember when…” But he was interrupted by one of the older kids whispering to another, “Here we go again…”
Schwinn didn’t finish his story but sat silent for a few minutes and stood. “All you kids, come with me,” he said. “All my kids.”
From the youngest to the oldest, they followed him into his garage where he uncovered his and his wife’s motorcycles – the ones they used to travel cross country on. Most of them never saw his vintage cycles since most of the time, he only told his stories. Seeing his story come alive was different. Some haven’t seen the motorcycles for years and they forgot he even had them. Even more, what they didn’t know was through the quiet years after losing his wife, Schwinn spent time restoring them. They looked brand new. The kids begged him for a ride.
“Not today, but sometime later this Summer I’ll get these out and each of you will get a ride, I promise.” He covered both motorcycles then motioned for them to go back into the living room.
“In the meanwhile,” he said, “since your grandma passed away – it has been hard for me. I miss her terribly. But it’s time I moved on with my life. Today I finally realized I don’t need to hide myself in this house any longer. God created a beautiful world for us to enjoy. I’m not seeing much of it sitting in here, and neither are you kids. It’s great that you have those electronic toys, but I think it would be more fun when you’re doing fun things you enjoy with others somewhere out there and not always inside four walls.” He pointed to the walls of his home surrounding him. “I never did have the chance to buy that RV for grandma, but I still have that money set aside for a rainy day, and this day is it. What would all of you say if I buy bikes for everyone in this room and we all just go? All of you and me too? We’ll go on adventures, together.”
All eyes were on Schwinn. It was as if an hour’s worth of silence was cramped into 30 seconds. Some continued with silence. Others laughed. Most of the adults crowded over him trying to convince him otherwise.
The youngest spoke up and said, “I’ll take red, great grand-dad – but it’s not raining.” All in the room paused to laugh before the chatter started again.
The next followed, “Make mine blue!”“Purple, with sparkles!” came yet another.
Schwinn just sat there with a huge smile. The adults returned to their plea, trying to change his thinking.
He lifted his cane in the air. “Hold up!” He repeated it three times before the chatter died down. “By golly, I want to have at least one more adventure, one more story to take with me before I leave this earth. And I want all of you to be part of it. I want all of you to find your own story in this. I’m sure your great grandmother, your grandmother, your mom, my wife would love to hear all about it when I meet up with her. Red. I’ll take red too!”
The adults, less Schwinn, gathered in the next room and came back with their response. It was agreed. Schwinn would get his wish, but his doctor would need to clear him first.
Within two weeks, everyone in that room received the color bike of his / her choice, including Schwinn, but there was one rule – he had to promise he would wear his helmet like everyone else. He not only promised that but he made sure he would also wear kneepads and elbow pads.
The day I saw him – he was that boy again, on his way to meet up with his family for yet another adventure.
That, my friends, is what I imagined from the brief encounter that one day, and somehow, seeing the joy in him – no matter what reality he was living, made an impression in me in two ways:
Joy uninhibited is as a child riding free alongside his closest friends and loved ones without the heavy weight of life’s worries weighing him down.
Joy uninhibited is living life fully alive, embracing the blessing that God intends for it to be.
Ride on, Schwinn, ride on. <3