“Some people think it's holding that makes one strong—sometimes it's letting go.” ~Unknown
My mom leaned in and gave me a goodnight kiss. The only light illuminating her face was coming from the hallway. I looked up at her, and in the confidence of the dark confessed, “I saw it.”
“It” was my birthday present, waiting patiently for me to wake up in the morning and claim it from its place in the garage. “It” was a turquoise blue Stingray bicycle with a white pleather banana seat and an extra tall sissy bar.
I’d seen it by chance, tucked back in a dark corner, and knew instantly it was for me.
I couldn’t stop myself from ruining my mom’s surprise. I just couldn’t contain my joy. That bike was the answer to my 10 year-old dreams.
And I wasn’t disappointed.
My new bike was the coolest mode of freedom I could imagine. It took me to the local pharmacy for candy and back to the school playground to meet up with my friends. Like an addict, I lusted for the feeling I got from riding past the Skerkoske’s house, Marcia Brady hair blowing in the breeze, singing “I Think I Love You” at the top of my lungs.
Riding something so beautiful gave me all kinds of cocky confidence. I was fearless. Within days, I was pedaling through the neighborhood, arms waving madly in the air, shouting “Look at me world! I’m riding with no hands!”
I let go without ever calculating the risks involved.
Fear crept up on me gently, a part of the ever expanding feeling of responsibility that came along with growing up.
Or maybe I’d heard “Hold on to that bike young lady! Do you want to end up in the hospital?!” one too many times. Whatever the cause, the magic of my turquoise blue Stingray was no longer enough to make me feel invincible.
I grew afraid of falling off.
My survival instinct told me to grab for the handlebars and hold on tight. And so, I did. Tighter and tighter as the years passed. For most of my adult life, I’ve lived in fear of what would happen if I let go.
This past year, there were just too many things, too many layers, to try and control. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t hold on to them all: parenting, partnering, being part of a community, a body growing older, an aging parent, leftover sibling rivalry. Too many causes, too many piles, too many times my name was called.
Life began to feel like one long no-handed ride.
Except instead of embracing the feeling of freedom, I felt like I was constantly trying to grab at handlebars that were just out of my reach.
I knew I was more likely to be injured by my caution than my confidence but I felt powerless to change.
There were way too many days where I felt like I was swerving from side to side, on the brink of losing control and taking a header into the sidewalk.
Remember doing that on purpose? Guiding your handlebars quickly back and forth, jerking the bike in a way that made a whooshing noise on the pavement, just to get that rush of being on the edge?
I loved that feeling and I wanted it back.
Living life in balance has become a modern mantra. But the quest for my own balance caused me to nurture an unrealistic vision. I began to imagine that I could walk a tightrope that never swayed, flythrough life without ever encountering turbulence.
Reality taught me otherwise. Life is bumpy and often uncomfortable. I didn’t accept that truth gracefully, but kicking and screaming. Until one day, the now-or-never-moment arrived with a thud.
As my children navigate their middle school years, my husband and I try our best to accept middle life, all of the unpredictability of our worlds sometimes colliding head-on.
Just as I was getting the hang of our heightened level of chaos, I was told my position at a job I loved was being eliminated within the month. I became overwhelmed trying to keep all of our lives smooth and unwrinkled, so desperate not to face the unknown that my mind could not rest.
My own dis-ease at not being able to control life did not serve anyone well.
So I decided to let go.
Hesitantly, like I just took off my training wheels.
I lifted my hands in the air.
So far, I’ve survived. Even if sometimes I haven’t been so sure that I would.
Today, my balance is wobbly and swervy and unpredictable. I’m learning to embrace that feeling and some days even search it out.
Every time I feel my life sway from balance and into chaos, I remember that it is an opportunity to learn, even if I learn nothing more than that I can endure and return to the center.
Every time I feel overwhelmed by what my day has presented to me, I remind myself to have faith in the path that I am on. There is value in the strength that I have gained from falling down and getting back up.
Every time I start listening to the voice that tells me I can’t, I focus my attention on all of the voices that lift me up and tell me I can. I choose to let others support me, knowing that it honors their best intentions to do so.
Every time I feel lost, I stop, close my eyes, and feel the presence of my essential self. It’s the part of me that I‘ve possessed since birth and that remains unchanged, no matter how much life shifts around me. I’ve found a lot of wisdom hiding there.
Sometimes the best way to regain our balance isn’t by standing still, but moving forward. In this process, we can relearn the joy of riding with no hands.
Photo by Joseph Mikos