It's a noteworthy occasion because it hasn't happened before, except for when I rode straight onto the extremely pebbly beach in Worthing a couple of months ago. My bike came to a halt and fell to the ground, a straight 90 degree topple which landed me firmly on the stones. The same thing happened today, except that I was on a cycle path that became extremely precarious and sloped as it reached the road. I was in a big gear, and I saw what was happening before it happened. Luckily I landed on a soft grassy verge, and the only injury was to my ego. In fact, I confess that it was quite fun! I felt like a proper cyclist, almost as if falling off was the completion of some silent initiation ceremony. You've got to fall off, get back on, adjust your saddle, go for a wee in a field where passing cars can see your white bum crouching because you're utterly desperate and can't hold on any longer - then, you can call yourself a cyclist.
NB: I also had a wee in a field today, and I think three or four drivers saw my white ass, caught me pulling my cycling shorts up. And it felt damn good. (I nearly stung my bum on nettles though, which I can guarantee would not have felt good. I happily averted any kind of bum stinging this afternoon - hooray!)
I went out for a ride because today was one of those stunning spring days that insist you go outdoors. It's kind of the law in England, where "nice" and "day" are used so infrequently in the same sentence, weather wise at least. I rode to Rushfields Garden Centre, where Nige works, and had lunch with him by the pond. It's about a 9 mile ride up there, with a few minor hills. Great for getting the legs pumping and the lungs working properly. There were hundreds of tadpoles swimming around in the pond, and I sat cross legged and watched them, awed by their wriggly tails and tinyness. As I sat, I pondered two very important questions:
Answers on a postcard to Elloa Tadpole Wonderer, the Pond, Rushfields Garden Centre.
I felt like I was witnessing a miracle when I saw a whole group of the tadpoles get behind a grey flowerpot that was floating at the top of the pond and start to push it across the pond. I was transfixed! It seemed utterly incredible to me that there was some kind of group intelligence operating whereby these tiny little polliwogs had agreed to transport a foreign object that was hundreds of times their individual size across the water. Amazing. Why on earth were they doing that?! Please enlighten me if you know.
I have to tell you that I adore being out on my bike. I completely and utterly love it. It's become a huge part of my life since September, and it's something I love doing alone and also with Nige. I've become much stronger and fitter, and the way I feel when I'm out - and, come to think of it, for hours afterwards - is simply incomparable to any city-based activity I can think of. The sense of satisfaction is tangible, as is the voracious appetite that follows a good jaunt on the bike. A spinning class might be great for pain tolerance and endurance, but I'd rather be out amongst the South Downs any day.
On my bike, I see the same views, the same places, the same roads that I see when I'm driving my car, but my experience of those things is entirely different when I'm on two wheels instead of being carefully enclosed in my Clio. I didn't know when I bought my bike that I was soon to be entering a new community, consisting of people wearing tight fitting shorts and tops and fingerless gloves, a community whose members mostly acknowledge other members out on the road with a nod, a wave and a hello. Have you ever seen a cyclist say hello to a car driver? As a cyclist, I don't think I've ever said hello to a car driver, and vice versa. But on the bike, it's hello here, hello there, hello across busy A roads, hello as you're overtaking or being overtaken, hello on trains and in B&Bs, hello in cafes on those all important cake stops. Today, I think I said hello about 25 times. About one for every mile I rode. There is, also, a cultural divide between road cyclists and mountain bikers, but in all honesty I've not experienced much hostility from road cyclists at all, and in fact they were friendlier than the mountain bikers today!
I've realised over the last seven months that I'm really quite content with a simple kind of life. I'm not really interested in going to clubs and bars anymore, and although I have a weakness for shopping, given the choice, I'd pick riding over being in the local shopping centre any day. It's a free day out, no two rides are ever the same, and it's so much fun!
Items seen by the side of the road today include:
- a toy mouse
- a wig (I kid you not)
Items seen recently by the side of the road include:
- three dead badgers (sad)
- swans in fields next to the military canal in Kent
- an elloa lying on grass insisting that she cannot go on.
Sometimes - and only ever in the presence of another human being, who, by default, is always Nige - I have bike tantrums. These are moments when I feel weak, or can't get my right foot into the pedal (it's always the right one - absolutely the stupid pedal's fault, not mine) or am generally annoyed at the fact that I am basically still a novice and therefore need some guidance or suggestions. I will flip out or pedal harder to get away from Nige, or stop and insist that I'm not going any further. Ouch. Sometimes, I am ashamed to admit, I behave very similarly to a small child who hasn't been given their way.
This admission, and indeed the behaviour itself, provides ample opportunity for me to fulfill my function and do the work that I am here to do: to forgive, to let go, to remember to laugh, to say fuck it and to change my mind. On our cycling trip in Kent last weekend, Nige and I had a few hairy moments. Stuff got triggered for one or both of us, and suddenly there was tension. We had to work through a whole set of beliefs in the car on the way to the B&B on Saturday morning! After doing the work we needed to do, Nige spoke about the true purpose of the relationship being revealed. Core stuff is coming up on a fairly regular basis at the moment, and it requires that I be attentive, respectful and surrendered, unless I want my old, fear-based patterns to carry on repeating themselves.
It was on Sunday though that a proper crisis popped up. Stuff happened over breakfast at the B&B, the details of which I don't need to go into. A few hours later, we were riding our bikes, and there it was - the Tension. Palpable, undeniable tension. I invited Nige to speak, and when he did, all my shit was triggered and I was not able to detach and simply hear him as a human being. Suddenly, his words were cutting into my very being. We actually crossed a new line for us, which was to enter into full blown bickering. Usually, one of us is in "adult" mode, or at least in it enough to know not to engage. But not this time.
It was lunacy! There we were, cycling through the "Garden of England", and I couldn't see a thing around me because I was consumed by my need to be right, and by my needs in general. Nige voiced his anger in a way he hasn't ever done before - it wasn't contained, it wasn't in the safe structure of a clearing, and I uttered ominously, "I don't like what's happening in this relationship." A statement, not a question. No curiosity. Just cold hard facts. This is the beginning of the end, now. Things are changing. He's changed. I've changed. Darkness has entered our relationship. I was a fool to think otherwise, an utter fool to delude myself into hoping that this was a 'holy' relationship. It was, I was convinced, a holey relationship - full of holes.
A mile or so later down the road, Nige stopped to ask directions. I don't know what happened, or how, but the Holy Spirit must have seen an opening. Nige checked that we were on the right road (which, of course, we were, only a mile away from the town of Lydd which we were aiming for en route to the very desolate and rather eeire Dungeness), and his bike was about two metres ahead of mine. Suddenly I said, "I really want to take a step towards you right now". Boom! An instant, a confession, a vulnerability, and the next thing I knew, we were crying in each other's arms, sharing our worlds and our wounds, correcting our mistaken beliefs.
I listened as Nige told me that when he was young, it wasn't safe for him to allow any gaps in the conversation, because in those gaps, he'd be pounced on and attacked. I shared with him that it is really hard for me to speak up, because I grew up believing that I was a burden to my mum and my family - and yet I have this compelling need to be seen. The one thing I think I need is the hardest thing for me to ask for, or take. Our dynamics click together like puzzle pieces born to slot into one another. No wonder there were fireworks.
We somehow managed to shift the paradigm we were working in, and within minutes were in the closing stages of a beautiful, authentic and healing process of connection and correction. There we both were, standing on a country lane on a hot Sunday, straddling our bikes and not the least bit aware of any passing cars or cyclists. I remembered my innocence; Nige remembered his. Innocence. Peace. Acceptance. Freedom. This is what we'd both been asking for over the breakfast table. It took a few hours, but we got there in the end.
We cycled off together, friends again - mighty companions! - and I saw the world anew with fresh eyes. I was and still am so grateful for the chance to forgive and be forgiven, for the opportunity to look into another person's life and see my own innocence reflected back to me. The love I feel for Nigel Atkinson is incomparable to anything I've ever known before. In him, I have the most beautiful man, the strongest one, the sacred one in whose arms I am repaired. I offer these same gifts to him, and we ride along and heal together and live again and remember to laugh.
Just a few minutes later, I declared, "I really like what's happening in our relationship." I think it's very important to take the ego's self-righteous convictions and turn them into statements of grace. Where I had been so convinced ten minutes before that things were going downhill for us and that 'this was the beginning of the end', now I simply knew in my heart that all was well, all was safe and that nothing real could be threatened. Love is. Everything else, I made up. The truth is not vulnerable to my ego's pitiful attacks on it, and whatever my ego decides to throw at it cannot change the fact that God loves me. In the back of my mind, I hear it whisper to me sometimes, things that are sinister and world-based: "One day, he'll die and you'll be left all alone", or, "He'll go off you soon enough Elloa. Everyone gets sick of you eventually." The thing is.... even if something like this did happen in my life, it wouldn't mean what my ego says it'd mean. I'd still be loveable, acceptable, enough. I'd still be love.
I like to ride my bicycle. This is what I wanted to share with you today, because I've done four bike rides in the last 8 days and have had an excellent time. What seems to transpire though, every time I sit down to write, is how every situation in my life is an opportunity to live and teach one of two things: love, or fear.
Today, I choose love.
What do you choose?