The parable of the stolen bike
Jenny and I decided to bike down to the fireworks on the 4th of July instead of driving or walking.
This was a great idea.
Aside from being more efficient, it was about a hundred times more enjoyable. It was already an ideal summer night, complete with BBQ and fireflies and the perfect temperature of warm-but-not-hot, and there was something so freeing about getting to bike back home after the fireworks while everyone else in the world sat in traffic and waited a sweet forever to move four inches. It was the opposite of that: a quiet ride next to the river under a backdrop of charcoal sky and soft echos coming off the water. The streets were empty by the time we got back to our neighborhood, so we rode straight down the middle. It felt iconic, like the one of those I’m Going To Remember This Fondly Forever moments.
It was so good. It was so, so good. We made plans to trade cars for bikes whenever possible for the rest of the summer like those happy and savvy city dwellers who always seem to be winning at life.
And then, the next day, someone stole the bikes.
Here’s the question I keep coming back to as I reflect on The Parable of the Stolen Bike:
Does the fact that my bike got stolen effect the good memories I had with it in the past or my ability to get a new bike in the future?
But for some reason, it does. Because now when I think about the 4th of July, I think about it less as this beautiful, memorable summer night and more as a shrine to what was, a freeze frame of all the good things that feel different now that the story changed in a way I didn’t want it to.
In the same way, nothing is stopping me from finding a new bike. It might even ultimately be a good thing to trade the mountain bike I’ve had since middle school for something that’s a better fit now that I’m no longer 12 years old
even though I haven’t actually grown all that much.
So it’s not that the bike and I didn’t have a good run together, and it’s not that I will forever be doomed to a bike-less future. It’s that somebody took my bike and I wasn’t ready to part with it yet.
When you cut the melodrama down by at least half, 2017 as a whole feels like The Parable of the Stolen Bike. In this parable, there are three distinct characters. There’s the fool who sets the world on fire in a fit of impassioned rage to scourge injustice from the face of the earth. There’s the wise person who can separate the past from the present from the future and see a way to use disappointment for greater good. And there’s the regular human who laments what was and what could have been and wonders what to do next.
Sometimes, like yesterday when Tori came by my cubicle right after I found out that someone skimmed my debit card number, I’m the fool, as I demonstrated by launching into a cry of, “Someone stole my BIKE! Someone stole my DEBIT CARD! Someone stole my LIFE!” And sometimes, in a quiet moment like this one as I sit on our back porch in the early morning light, I’m the wise person who can see life with perspective and depth.
But more often than not, I’m just the regular human who can’t get over the gap between what was and what could be.
If the question is Who do I want to be in my 30s?, that is not the answer I’m going for. Because while it’s all well and good to be the regular person from time to time, the one who cries and questions and festers in mild fury, at the end of the story, I want to be the wise person.
And I think the wise person would probably say something like this:
“For just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there’s nothing else. It’s here, and you’d better decide to enjoy it or you’re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever.” ―Lev Grossman, The Magicians
I’m not good at that yet, but I’d like to be. Because if life is going to be a dumpster fire, you might as well decide to make s’mores.