Such a Long Journey

The journey began in June, 2018.  After three days of riding my bicycle in the Tour du Canada with seventeen other folks, I quit.  I was a mess emotionally – terrified and depressed.

In the weeks following, my right hand wouldn’t stop shaking.  I’d look in the mirror and wonder “Who’s that?”  I finally concluded that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  The shaking eventually stopped.  The fear of getting on a bicycle didn’t.

Oh, I argued with myself – that I should be a better person.  Man up.  Stop being a wimp.  None of that self-abuse helped.  Beyond my general enjoyment of myself was a vague sense of inferiority.  One long sigh of muted despair.

This July or August (I can’t remember), with the PTSD still lingering, and not having been on a bike for over two years, I knew I had to act.  Sygnan and Laura run Cyzzle Cycles and have provided me with impeccable service for many years.  I walked into their store and told them the truth.  Just as on the Tour du Canada, being so nakedly deficient in the company of dedicated cyclists was agonizing.  But I did it.  Sygnan and Laura listened with compassion, and Laura offered to coach me about “getting back on the horse”.

I wrote in my blog about shakily visiting the bike shop – the first day to simply get astride Betty while she was attached to a bike stand.  I’m guessing that few of you can understand the terror I felt to simply put my left foot on the pedal and then to swing my right leg over … but maybe I’m wrong.

A few days later, Laura took me to a nearby parking lot.  First she rode Betty in big circles, giving me instructions that I had known for years but which were so hard to hear in the moment.

And then … I rode!  It was a triumph of my own spirit.

But alas, it wasn’t a happy ending.  Back home, looking at Betty in the garage, the shaking returned.  I had just done what needed to be done, and now it looked once more like an impossible dream.  I was shocked at my lack of resolve to beat this thing.  I retreated into … the weather.  It was stifling hot mid-summer.  No wise human being would choose to cycle right now.  So “later” became the watchword.  The heat lingered and so did my defeat.

A few days ago, it was probably two months since I stayed up on Betty in the parking lot.  Back then, I told Laura that I’d call her as soon as I took Betty out on a ride.  No phone call.

I couldn’t even look myself in the mirror, nor look at Betty in the garage.  But a thought emerged: “Bruce, starting in January, for a year, you will be in the teacher training program of the Evolutionary Collective.  You will be challenged perhaps as never before.  Shouldn’t you move past any roadblocks that are compressing your aliveness?”  I gulped.  the answer was clearly “yes”.  But how?

Last night, I was watching the love between Rose and Jack unfold in the movie Titanic.  At some point before the ship hit the iceberg, I heard words bubbling up from inside: “Tomorrow at 10:00 am.”  Without thinking, I knew immediately what they meant.  I would ride Betty tomorrow morning.  

A calm surrounded me.  A little smile appeared.  I knew that the time had come.  I felt the ease blow through me.  Plus the astonishment. 

I cried as Jack died.  I went softly to bed and slept for eight hours.  I woke up wondering If I remembered all the details about cycling clothing and bike computer settings, and knew it didn’t matter if I didn’t.

At 9:55, the right pedal was aloft with my foot firmly placed.  I pressed down, found the left pedal under my other foot, and …




Rest In Peace

I thought this morning about my overwhelmed reaction to normal group conversation at the school’s staff party last night.  “What is happening to me?”  I went out to breakfast at Wimpy’s Diner in St. Thomas, mostly to see my friend and usual waitress Angie.  She was wonderfully supportive about my early exit from the bike ride and made sure I got the message “No failure there.”  Still, I lingered in the restaurant for at least an hour after the meal was toast, really vacant in the head.

Afterwards, I wanted to wash Scarlet, who was massively dirty after I laid my sodden tent over her a couple of weeks ago.  I like manual car washes and I heard there was one on the east edge of St. Thomas, which would be a good ongoing choice for me.  When I pulled up to the place, however, I realized that it was an automatic one.  I told myself I was too tired to go further into town to use the manual one I knew, so I pulled into line.  It was so strange – I couldn’t figure out how automatic car washes work.  The attendant who eventually came into view was very patient but was perhaps seeing me as a new arrival on the planet.  “What is happening to me?”

My plan was to spend a good part of the day at the St. Thomas Library but as I approached the right turn for such a location, my mind said “Turn left.  Go home.”  I obeyed.  “Meditate.”

I sat down in the cozy meditation chair in my bedroom.  As I was about to close my eyes, the telephone rang.  It was my friend Adele.  She reads all my posts and was concerned about me.  “I wonder if you have PTSD.”  Immediately my head said “Yes.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”  Maybe that conclusion is a little dramatic, but I fear (appropriate word, I’d say) it’s in the ballpark.  Adele continued: “You need to rest.  Take a week and be with yourself.”  >  “I could have a meditation retreat … at home.”  >  “Yes, you could.”

Before that phone rang, I felt immersed in “badness, lostness, sadness”.  The term that came to mind, also with the potential of exaggeration, was “The Dark Night of the Soul”, a spiritual state of despair that many people have experienced and documented.  And then Adele shows up in my ear.

After we finished talking, I did close my eyes … for one hour and forty minutes of blessed sitting.  Very few thoughts came.  I slipped deeply into rest.  Some lovely energy floated down over my face and over my body.  Down, down and down, and yet always alert to the world of my bedroom.  I nodded off nine times, five or six of them with tiredness so profound that I nearly fell off the chair.  After each one, some voice said “Continue.”  So I did.

Now it’s an hour after I rang my singing bowl three times as an expression of completion.  The Dark Night is not here.  No demons assail me.  Will the darkness and fear return?  I have no doubt they will.  They have a mind of their own.  The healing, I believe, will take time.

The Buddha said some cool things.  Here’s one:

You can search throughout the entire universe
For someone who is more deserving
Of your love and affection than you are yourself
And that person is not to be found anywhere

Thank you, Mr. Buddha