Friday, November 6, 2015

Living in an Alternate Universe

       In the summer of 2005, I took part in the fourth AIDS/LifeCycle, a 560-mile, 7-day, bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. (I think I've written about this a couple of times over the years.)  It was (and still is) a very well-supported charity ride, the proceeds (over $66 million over the last 10 years) benefitting the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.  The route travels roughly along the western edge of California, not always along the coast, sometimes venturing inland.  The fact that the route DOES travel from the coast to some inland valleys means that there are portions of the California Coast Range that need to be ascended (and, of course, more enjoyably descended).
       One particular hill is known as "Quadbuster", a grueling climb on the third day between King City and Paso Robles.  It is one of several climbs that causes some riders to dismount and walk their bike to the top.
  I recall very vividly riding up Quadbuster (I made it to the top!).  I passed some riders, and was passed by others as I ascended.  It was hard.  And I was surprised (well, maybe not), to see some of the stronger riders close alongside struggling cyclists, a hand on their back(side), pushing them up the hill. Even more surprising (truly!) was watching a cyclist DESCEND the hill after summiting, to go back and help/encourage another one to the top.  I learned that evening that there were some who had gone back down (and then up again) five or six times.
        Even by that time of the ride (only three days in), I had come to recognize that the company of riders and roadies--the support folks--(some 1500 in all) represented just about every stripe of humanity you could imagine.  We were different in our ages, our religions, our politics, our gender, our sexual-orientation, our health-status (one sub-group was the "Positive Pedalers" -- those who had HIV and were riding), our race/ethnicity.  But despite those differences, once we were in spandex, no-one was queried about those identities while trying to make it up the hills.  Help was offered; help was accepted.  Having everyone finish was the goal.  One primary motto for the event was "It's a ride, not a race."* (
A secondary, but equally important, motto was "Hydrate and pee!") I've commented numerous times since June of 2005 that I had been a part--if only for a week--of an alternate universe.  I went into a blue-funk for about a while afterwards as I grieved the loss of that community.        Memories of that June 2005 come flooding back oh-so-often.  More recently, earlier this week, I listened to an interview on "Colorado Matters" with Denver Filmmaker Michael De Yoanna concerning a documentary he had just finished called "Recovering".  The film tells the stories of veterans--wounded both physically and psychologically--who have found a measure of healing through cycling.  Some of the cyclists are unable to ride "normal" upright two-wheelers.  No matter, bikes can be found to fit ANY cyclist.  BUT, making it up hills is a challenge for anyone on a recumbent (regardless of strength/ability).  And so many of the recumbents in this film are fitted with push-bars so that a stronger cyclist can help his/her buddy up the hill (pictured above).  These cyclists were linked by their experiences in war and their desire to come out the other side with a will-to-live.  They wanted to finish their ride (a 911 mile ride for September 11th), as a way of finding some healing -- and, perhaps, through their example, providing some healing for others. Another alternate universe that re-fires my longing.
        And, then again, as I was coming into work this morning. I heard a snippet of an 
interview with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain.  Reflecting on conversations between religious leaders, scientists and social scientists, he responded to Krista Tippet's question, "And different kinds of religious leaders, right, across traditions, as well?":

Totally. I mean, the thing that really, for me, changed my life, it was standing at ground zero, a couple of months afterwards. In January — well, it was January 2002 — together with the Archbishop of Canterbury and religious leaders throughout the world. And we were looking at this wreckage, this sheer harm that hate can do. And yet, at the same time, here we all were in friendship, fellowship, and shared prayer. And I just saw how clearly that is — those are the terms of the equation. Do we go that way, or we go this?
Do we go that way, or we go this?
           Rabbi Sacks didn't use the language of an "alternate universe", but he was clearly pointing to evidence that one may exist.  "Do we go that way, or we go this?" Do we put our hands on the backs of those struggling up the hill, regardless of our differences?  Do we dream of an alternate universe, or do we act as if we're living in it already?


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