“You’re very brave.”
Funny. I didn’t feel brave.
I looked over at the woman in the passenger seat of a mid- to late 90’s Buick parked two spaces away from me at the local Sonic Drive-In. She had the kind, soft, pleasantly wrinkled face I’ve come to regard as “grandmotherly.” As she gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up, it dawned on me why she called me “brave.”
It was a very warm, late-summer day. The aspen trees were starting to change colours in the High Country and I was on my way home after more than 100 miles of carving turns along mountain valleys and hillsides with a close friend. A cherry-limeade slush from Sonic is my favourite way to end a motorcycle ride, the whipped cream for my sundae (so to speak). Here I was, leaning against my bike, helmet perched on top of the sissy bar, gloves tucked behind the windshield, enjoying my favourite treat. My t-shirt stuck to my back and I knew my face bore the sappy kind of smile that always seems to emerge when I took “Oscar” for a run in the mountains. I felt strong, exhilarated, perhaps a little tired and more than just a little contented. Brave? Nope. Not really.
A woman on the back of a motorcycle is common enough. A woman driving a bike is less so and that’s why people think of me (and my other bike-riding sisters) as brave. We choose to straddle about 300 pounds of steel and rubber and venture out into a world where pre-occupation, self-absorption, lack of courtesy (not to mention concern) and a sense of entitlement have turned the roadways into battlefields. And we choose to do this armed only with a fiber-glass helmet (in my case anyway), a pair of gloves and a “protective” jacket. Oh. And our wits. Yeah, I suppose that does make us brave.
So why do I do it? Why is it that I dread the return of Autumn (even though it is my favourite season) and start counting the days until the temperatures climb back into the 60’s again?
I wish I could tell you.
I love the weight of my bike on my leg as I lean into a curve and open the throttle. The jolt bubbling and rushing of streams carrying snow melt from the High Country, the remnants of the white gold that blankets much of the mountain areas all winter. You can almost feel the ice on your cheeks as the road follows the stream beds.
It isn’t just the Spring and Summer riding I so enjoy. A few weeks ago, I took a late afternoon ride through one of my favourite canyons. The sun was starting to sink below the mountain tops and, honestly, I wasn’t very dressed appropriately. I wore only a thin top underneath my jacket and it was flat out cold riding in the shadows along the canyon floor. Truth be told, there is nothing worse than being cold on a motorcycle (unless it’s being cold and wet on a motorcycle) and it seemed the wiser course would be to turn back, to go home where it was warmer.
But the leaves of the trees hanging over the road had taken on a luminous, other-worldly quality and the road was quiet except for the bubbling of the stream just off to my left. I leaned into a sweeping left hand curve and a broad shaft of sunlight seemed to split the mountain in two. Instantly, my hands and legs thawed. The yellow leaves of the aspens, already glowing, just erupted into dazzling gold and the pale green of the leaves yet to turn shimmered. And the creek just behind them gurgled like a laughing child. Absolutely sublime.
I continued on, grateful for the Autumn sun that chased cold from my hands and legs, my heart overflowing with wonder – how on Earth could anything compare to that? That was only one of the wonderful things I’ve seen from the back of my motorcycle. How many such sites did I miss while safely cocooned within the cage of my car, tunes blazing? How many fragrances did I crush with indifference? How many treasures had I passed by, simply because I was too “safe” to notice how incredibly beautiful they were?
So what does this have to do with everyday courage?
Several years ago, I found myself wrestling with questions of faith and had the very good fortune and blessing to be discipled through the upheaval by a gifted teacher, herself an artist. One day, after a particularly difficult meeting – and let me say I developed an entirely new appreciation for the story of Jacob wrestling with the Angel of God that day – Deb said to me “What you’re doing here is very courageous.”
“It doesn’t feel like courage,” I said. Exhausted. Discouraged. Broken. Not brave. Not even close.
“No, but that doesn’t make it less true.”
At the end of our association, I bought myself a memento, something to remind me of lessons learned, of blessings fought for and received, although not without scars and a limp. It was key chain. On one side was a picture of the Cowardly Lion from “The Wizard of Oz” and on the back was engraved “Lots of nerve.” I bought it to remind myself that even when it doesn’t look like courage, it just might be.
When I made the decision to leave the cave, I knew that it would be among the hardest things I had ever done. I knew that there would be things I would see that would be difficult to confront and the “wise” or “responsible” decision would be to turn around and go back into the cave. Pretend that my heart didn’t yearn for more than a shadow of the freedom I suspected waited for me beyond the cave entrance.
It occurs to me that this is the essence of faith, is it not? The confidence of unseen things; the hope for things that we suspect exist even though we’ve not experienced them directly ourselves. I’m not suggesting learning to ride a motorcycle is itself an act of faith, but it was one step along a path that led to the front of my own cave. The view was blinding, luminous, glorious and terrifying. Once upon a time, I would have retreated from that view, cowered in a corner and averted my eyes. Who can look on such a wonder and live? Now I want to see what other glories lay around the next bend. And even if I have to get cold and wet, and start shaking and wondering if it might be wiser to turn back, I want to see what else is out there.
Brave? Yeah. I guess I am.