I have ridden a motorcycle exactly two times. The first time was when I was twelve. My girlfriend’s older brother Dale (about 19) drove in one summer afternoon to show off his new motorcycle. He asked me if I wanted a ride. “Sure!” I said. I hopped on the back and away we went, roaring up and down our country road. It was wonderful! I should add, my parents were not at home at the time. Later when they heard I had ridden on a motorcycle with Dale, they ordered me never to ride one again.
When I was about 45 and living in Middleburg, Virginia, I had my second motorcycle ride. I figured my parents’ prohibition against motorcycle riding expired when I turned 21. Besides they were almost 400 miles away. This time it was the husband of a friend of mine who gave me the ride. Although that was many years ago, I still remember the thrill of flying down Route 50 at 50 miles an hour. Afterwards I came up with what I called the eight beatitudes of motorcycle riding. Here are four of them.
The first one is based on the fact that motorcycles are dangerous. They require skill to maneuver. That’s why, if you’re hitching a ride, it’s important to ride with someone you really, really trust. My friend’s husband (I’ll call him Dan) was very trustworthy. For a living he advised several Presidents of the United States on Russian affairs. I figured the intelligence and competency he displayed in his work would spill over into his motorcycle riding. In addition Dan road his bike into Washington D.C. every day on Route 66–in rush hour traffic. He had to be good! So the first beatitude is this: Blessed are they who learn how to trust trustworthy people, for they shall have more fun in life.
Dan and his wife made me don a helmet. They didn’t have to convince me because I wanted to wear one–despite the fact that the helmet smashed my hair and made me a little claustrophobic. Prior to donning the helmet, I had seen many motorcycle riders with no helmets on. I was quick to judge them as completely foolish. But once my head was actually inside the helmet, I could understand better a person’s aversion to wearing one. I still think motorcyclists should wear helmets, but I am a little more understanding of those who don’t. Beatitude #2: Blessed are they who do not judge others until they have ridden a mile inside their helmets.
As we rounded the first curve in our long driveway, I became aware of how important balance was. Lean a little to the left now. Lean a little to the right now. Soon the balancing became second nature. As we travel through life we are continuously trying to keep our balance. Now work, now play. Now speak, now listen. Now hang on to, now let go. Beatitude # 3: Blessed are they who know when to lean a little to the left and then lean a little to the right, for they shall master the fine art of balancing.
As I rode on the motorcycle that day I became very aware of the world around me. In a car, we are very insulated from the world we’re driving through—unless we’re in a convertible with the top down. But on the bike I felt the warmth of the sun on my arms and the playfulness of the wind as it billowed my blouse in the back. I smelled the sweetness of the honeysuckle and the tang of freshly cut hay. I spotted a corpulent groundhog munching on the grass at the side of the road. I found myself thinking: “What a beautiful world!” And, “I am one with all of you!” So the fourth beatitude is this: Blessed are they who realize what a beautiful world they live in and who know they are one with all of creation, for they shall come to experience the sacredness of everything!”
Yes, of everything. Even a ride on a motorcycle.
What are your thoughts and feelings about motorcycle riding?
Do any of these beatitudes resonate with your experiences in life?
Happy Labor Day!
PS: A few days ago I was working on a future blog about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and I accidentally clicked “publish” instead of “schedule.” This caused some of you to get part of this blog. I apologize! The full reflection will be posted next week.