Crossing the Divide
Phone calls and texts flooded our house earlier this week. The flurry of buzzing and ringing and talking made me forget the pledge to cycle every day in May. My riding streak ended at 46 days. My uncle’s life ended at 82 years–news delivered via the phone calls.
It’s strange how death often leads us to reconsider life. Our lives were so different, my uncle’s and mine. He seemed content to live within a small space, both geographically and emotionally. Particularly in his later years, his sphere included only a few people in the handful of miles between church, grocery store, and home. Whereas I belong to many communities (including cycling), he belonged to only one, and a tiny one at that. He marveled at my strange obsession with bicycling, and I marveled at his constricted life.
The last time we saw each other was just a few days before he died, at a family gathering. He asked about bicycling, knowing its importance to me, and suggested I couldn’t possibly have ridden that day. Overhearing this, my father began to laugh (he’d just heard me tell a funny story about the morning trip to the grocery store), and said, “She rode this morning.” The stunned look on my uncle’s face belied the fact that he couldn’t imagine riding a bicycle on the same day as a two-hour car trip, as though either one required a superhuman effort. Riding a bicycle for a full week with strangers would have been inconceivable to him. He might have been able to handle the physical part of the journey, but the social effort could have killed him.
I’ve been struggling with how to put my feelings into words. Is living a “safe” life the best choice? My uncle, along with other family members, worried about my safety while bicycling. He lived a long life, but it wasn’t a full one. He almost never took risks. At the end, he was blind, infirm, and could barely engage in simple conversations. Was it worth it, his safe life? When I’m 80, if I’m lucky enough to live that long, I want to remember days gulping for air riding massive hills on a blistering summer day, thinking about heat stroke. I don’t want to die as a smear on a tractor-trailer grill, either, but I definitely want something other than the grocery list to be the last thing on my mind.
So my uncle has crossed the great divide, certainly the biggest adventure in his (or anyone’s) existence. But I hope his soul understands there are some adventures worth living for.