We left the house at about 8:30 this morning for an airport ride before breakfast. Heading west and then north, the ride was just wonderful. The early morning air was slightly cool and dewy, but the bright sunshine promised a warm day. Riding on nearly deserted roads, we heard the birds chirping, and enjoyed numerous sighting of my favorite red winged blackbirds. It was one of those rides that felt effortless, one of those times when the bike disappeared under me and I felt like I was flying. I was feeling pretty good about myself and my bike riding prowess.
The trip back was a little different. It was not until we turned around that I realized that the day was quite windy. In fact, as we headed the four miles east and six miles south, I realized that there was a pretty good wind coming out of the southeast. The headwinds slowed me down quite a bit, but there was nothing to do but hunker down and keep pedaling.
It occurred to me that headwinds are more difficult for me to cope with than large hills. I think it is because I can see the hills, I know what I'm up against. I can measure progress and can understand the challenge. Headwinds are invisible- coming out of nowhere, unseen and unnoticed until they thwart progress. It is impossible to know how strong they will be or how long they will last. Riding into a strong headwind may be physically challenging, but it is mentally exhausting. It is demoralizing to fight for the miles and difficult to accept the slower pace and just keep going.
Last week felt like I was constantly pedaling into a strong headwind. Our dog Pippi is failing and we had an appointment to have her put to sleep on Tuesday. As it turned out, she rallied a little and we were able to postpone the inevitable. Nonetheless, it is hard to watch her fade away. There were other things too- stressful projects with short timelines, several friends with medical problems, others dealing with personal or professional disappointments, students with serious personal issues-- the list goes on. It seemed like one thing after another, many of them coming out of nowhere, unexpected, thwarting progress, challenging me both physically and mentally. My patience with family and co-workers ran thin and I got a little snappish.. Bad Karma all around.
I don't really notice when the wind is at my back and unseen forces are helping me along, but boy do I notice when I am struggling into a headwind. When things are going well and life seems effortless, I tend to believe that I am responsible for my own success and completely forget that I pretty much never do anything truly single-handedly. There is almost always something at work supporting my efforts- maybe the support of family, friends or co-workers or maybe some type of divine guidance. Whatever.
It would be nice if we could plan our lives so that we could always keep the wind at our backs. But it doesn't work that way. I could have ridden all morning without turning back into that headwind, but had I done so, I would have ended up far away from where I needed to be. There are times that there is no option other than leaning into that wind and pedaling for all I'm worth.
Last week, we attended a fundraising dinner for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that makes wishes come true for seriously ill children. Talk about riding into a headwind! Instead of riding through their days effortlessly with the wind at their backs, these kids have been robbed of their childhoods by horrible diseases. There is no rhyme or reason to this sort of tragedy. These kids and their families did nothing to deserve the pain and misery they deal with daily. I think that tragedies of this kind strike randomly with no purpose or logic behind them. Bad things just happen sometimes.
But there are some remarkable things that emerge from these tragedies-- the resilience of human lives and love, the generosity of people ready and willing to help total strangers, the drive of some people to relieve pain, and the way that new families form from those enduring similar fates.
I have never experienced tragedy on that scale, but I know how important it is to know that we are not alone in the world when we ride into those headwinds. In my more existential moments, I sometimes wonder if there is any purpose to our lives. I have concluded that there is indeed a purpose-- simply to do the best we can to make things a little better for someone else. To find ways to spread grace and compassion. To be the wind on someone else's back.