Wednesday, May 8, 2013

An evening ride

The other night, kids in bed, I went to visit a new acquaintance. We had things to talk about over a pot of tea. At 8 o’clock it was becoming dark, and I wondered about driving. But for reasons neighbourly, political and environmental, I try to minimise my use of the car. I’ve given up waiting for everyone else to drive less. Instead, as much as possible in a city built for car travel, I ride or catch public transport to get about.

But when it’s dark out, I often find myself wavering. Too many of my friends have been hit by cars for me to ever feel entirely safe on a bicycle; yet the pot of tea awaiting me was a bit too far away for me to walk.

I thought of the car with longing: so quick, so comfortable, so safe. But with a sigh I recalled my commitment. I affixed my lights, strapped on my helmet, and headed out.

The night was cool. As I rode down the street, pedalling steadily, my limbs began to loosen up. The heat of the day was dissipating in a slight evening breeze coming in from the south. I rode along in a perfect state of warm body – cool air: utterly comfortable.

The night was quiet. Once or twice a car cruised by; once, I overtook a man on a squeaky bike. A couple of pedestrians were out walking their dogs. I passed a jogger and heard him puff. A fruit bat erupted out of a tree and flew away heavily. But mostly, it was just me. Me and the night and my thoughts.

The night was fragrant. Every block I rode into a new wall of scent, inhaled deeply once or twice then left it behind. Jasmine, fig, eucalyptus, and many I could not identify. I had ridden the same streets earlier the same day, and had smelled nothing; now, the air was redolent.

I arrived at a softly lit house pregnant with the hush of sleeping children. I parked the bike and locked it up – no engine noise, no big headlights, no electronic beep; then I softly knocked and tiptoed in. The mother made an evening tea. We sat and allowed the conversation to unfurl from the shadows. Small tendrils of talk floated into the lamplight then gently dispersed. It was good.

The night deepened and I left. I rode home a different way, zigzagging past the streets and homes of friends and acquaintances and nodding a blessing towards each one. A sense of exhilaration filled me as bone, muscle and sinew worked together to whisk me along. I revelled in the quiet and the dark, and my olfactory nerves delighted in every rich fragrance.

This, surely, is prayer embodied: gratitude and joy and delight; attentiveness to my body, this bike, and the world all linked in perfect union; and the sure and certain knowledge that I was in the right place at the right time, as I cycled through the night.

Insulated in the ton of metal that is my car, I would have travelled quicker. And the headlights would have seared into the darkness; the intake would have filtered out the scent of jasmine; the comfortable seat would have given me no sense of strength or embodiment; the speed and need to concentrate would have prevented me nodding blessings on my way.

They say life is a journey. I say the journey, done well, gives life.

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