Sunday, November 15, 2009

Learning to Fly

Dear Dad,

Perhaps you have wondered why it is that I have not addressed a letter to you sooner.  But actually, I have been writing this one in my head for many months now, maybe for years, even, and waiting to commit it to the page until it was finally the truth.  I rode a bicycle yesterday.

You should not feel concerned or guilty that it took me this long.  I offer this reassurance only because when you found out that I could not ride a bicycle about a year ago, you looked a little horrified, as though you had forgotten something important, and responded by gamely running down the sidewalk and holding up the back of a bike as your twenty-seven-year-old daughter wobbled ineptly through the streets of Westerville and demonstrated little to no signs of improvement.  Most people master this skill before they have lost all their baby teeth, but then, if anyone understands that I am not like most people, it is you, who have borne my eccentricities and stubbornness for many years now.  For one, let us not forget that I was far from an athletic child, finding solace only in books, and you responded by trying to be as excited about Academic Challenge meets as you would naturally have been about basketball games.  Also, I was not always receptive to help, as witnessed by my disturbing meltdown in the parking lot of the school when you tried to teach me to parallel park a car.  Anyway, it was in no way your fault that you did not personally usher me over this particular milestone.

I will admit, however, that it might have been a less humbling experience if I had learned when I was six like everyone else.  There were many aborted attempts.  There was the time I went with my friend Kent (another non-biker) to practice in a park in Brooklyn, but we could not figure out how to adjust the seat, so we gave up and drank margaritas instead.  There was the time you tried to help me in Ohio, and though I think all those avid cycling enthusiasts in spandex shorts were trying to be encouraging by giving me waves and thumbs-up as they whizzed past, it was a little humiliating.  And then, of course, there was Cambodia, where not only are biking conditions far from optimal, but also where advanced knowledge of two-wheel vehicles is taken to be much more of a given than most of my skills.  One evening, soon after we moved to Siem Reap, I was practicing in a hotel parking lot, providing the local tuk-tuk drivers with some novel entertainment, and one of them walked over to where Jason was watching.  “No,” he said, pointing to me and sadly shaking his head.  “Cannot.  Is impossible.”  Later I would recognize that that is a favorite English phrase around here, but at the time, it felt like a good summation of my public shame.  I should admit that I did not handle these failures with very much grace or patience.

Given these setbacks, it was a revelation to finally feel my feet pedaling steadily under the blue fluorescent lights of the Royal Empire Hotel last night, weaving around parked tour buses, waving at the baffled-looking drivers.  There was no reason that this attempt was any different than the rest, except that this time, for some reason, it worked.  Bah! Bah!” the tuk-tuk drivers yelled, finally.  “Yes!”  I felt victorious, much as when, right before I moved to New York, you looked at me proudly.  “If living in Chicago has taught you anything,” you said, (what would follow?  A reference to my college GPA? The degree you shelled out thousands for? My first real job? None of the above…) “it’s how to parallel park.”

Maybe it would be an exaggeration to say that the most important thing I have learned in Cambodia is how to ride a bike, but then again, maybe not.  After all, is it not the small obstacles that surprise us, that cause us to stumble, that embarrass us, and consequently, that teach us the most about ourselves?  Yes, I learned something about my shortcomings—it reinforced that my poor motor skills are not going to carry me to a victory in the Tour de France.  But there was something else there, too, something about perseverance and propensity for change, something that reminded me of you. 

Keep the bicycle chains oiled for me.  We will go on a ride together, even if it is frozen and icy by the time I make it back to Ohio.

With love,



dunlapfabfive said...

We are VERY proud of your latest accomplishment. AND, you know your Dad is saying "Thank God--she FINALLY figured it out!!"

justin said...

Way to go Dunlap!