It was exciting to buy the bike, and nice to sit on the deck early this morning drinking coffee and writing about it.
Then, I started pedaling.
And what I kept thinking (other than, “What was I thinking?”) was that it’s easy to write about things, to make them sound nice. To drink coffee and imagine the new thing you are going to do.
And then you do it, and that is another matter entirely, because it’s actual experience. And it’s probably nothing like you thought it would be, for better or for worse; there I was huffing and puffing up the hills, forcing myself not to walk, marveling at how easy it looks when other people are doing it, and wondering if I’d make it to campus.
Determined, I found myself choosing a spot a few feet ahead to reach, then another–just keep pedaling, just keep pedaling, as a friend commented on Facebook. I do that when I’m running, too, though I haven’t run in a few weeks due to the crazy-long flu that knocked me down. I think I did that in labor, come to think of it–the next breath, the next contraction. You can pretty much do anything that way.
I got to work and locked up my bike, legs slightly wobbly but none the worse for the ride. Having forfeited my usual morning latte (riding with a latte seemed a little ambitious for today), I got a cup of Dean’s Beans in the bookstore. My boss said I looked “lively.”
All day, I dreaded riding home but also kind of couldn’t wait. Then I did it, tired still in the afternoons from a cough that won’t quite let go. I can’t honestly say I liked it (yet?), but arriving home and seeing my car in the driveway brought a pang of satisfaction, as did doing ten minutes of yoga at lunchtime and stretching out muscles that aren’t used to being called to action.
It’s easy to write about things. To imagine them. To sit and drink coffee and talk and daydream, to get excited by ideas, turned on by words, or conversely, to get scared of the unknown, to obsess over the “what if,” and to get overwhelmed by sheer habit.
It’s also easy to do things–which doesn’t mean they’ll be easy to do.
In yesterday’s New York Times, there was an essay by Pico Iyer, The Value of Suffering. He writes, “The only thing worse than assuming you could get the better of suffering, I began to think (though I’m no Buddhist), is imagining you could do nothing in its wake.”
Later, Maezen shared this: “Imaginary suffering is the easiest to spot and the hardest to relieve.”
I pondered both of these, and the privilege of living a life where any suffering I experience is largely self-induced and thus possible to shift. If you’re wondering what all this has to do with riding my bike to work… I’m wondering, too.
Something about my human responsibility to do something. To recognize the places in my own life where relief is up to me and where real experience can replace pipe dreams, words, talk, concepts, fears, and static neuroses. To acknowledge the humbling fact that with so much atrocity and heartbreak in this world, I cannot justify just sitting and writing and drinking coffee.
Now, you know I love writing, and my devotion to good coffee goes without saying. But I also have to get on my bike and ride it–to make full use of the mind and body I’ve been given. This means being uncomfortable, which is often what happens when we do things instead of thinking about them.
I’ll take real discomfort over imaginary suffering, over tangerine trees and marmalade skies, and over a sense of helplessness in the face of so much real suffering any day. Doing something is the doorway to everything.
(And maybe, if I keep it up, I’ll even stop huffing and puffing enough to enjoy the scenery as I ride.)