Most folks who know me at all know that I am an avid cyclist. I try to commute by bike as often as possible (and who cares if it's raining or 100 degrees?). I love long rides; I love difficult rides. I've worked with a personal trainer to tailor my weight-room exercises to maximize my ability to be on the bike. When living in California, I sat on the side of the road to watch the the Amgen Tour of California whiz by. And, during July of every year, I tune in to the Tour de France.
From the time I first started watching the Tour in the mid-to-late '80's, I've been amazed at what these athletes do. They are on the bike every day for over three weeks (including 2 "rest days" when they are STILL on the bike!). They regularly ride distances of over 100 miles. They climb incredibly steep mountain passes. They "time-trial" despite the weather. And, while they may need to consume over 8,000 calories a day, on average, a rider will lose ten pounds during the race. All of this is just during the race; nothing like this happens without a lot of training -- physical, mental and, I imagine, spiritual (of a sort). Yet, knowing all of this, I was struck when, in an interview last week one of the riders said, "Any day, any time, I will gain time on the race."
This rider, whose name I've forgotten (in my hurry to write down his words), captured the heart of someone who was not content to remain in the middle of the peloton (that big, constantly shifting, amoeba made up of the pack of cyclists). Not that being in the middle of the peloton is a bad thing; one learns, when watching the tour, that all of the riders on a team have specific roles to support the overall goal of the team. And often those roles relegate one to the middle of the pack. An additional advantage to being in the middle of the peloton is that one's energy-expenditure goes WAY down, as "drafting" becomes possible. On the other hand, if there's a crash up forth, many in the peloton can't help but also going WAY down, perhaps suffering race-ending injuries. So, it may behoove a rider to be out front, to gain time.
This rider's phrase, "Any day, any time, I will gain time on the race" has stuck with me over the last week, especially as I have watched with dismay, horror and sorrow at what has transpired in the United States. Shootings in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas and St. Joseph come on the heels of the tragedy in Orlando. Around the world, shootings and bombings are taking the lives of hundreds of innocent people. The motivations are various; various forms of racism, homophobia, and religious sectarianism seem to predominate. All indicate, as I've noted many times, an undercurrent of fear and anxiety that seems to, almost naturally, find its outlet in violence.
I write "almost naturally" with caution, because I do not believe that we, as a species, are born violent. Yet, from almost day one, we are surrounded by so much violence--real, virtual, and even athletic--that it becomes the culture of the "peloton" that is our daily life. And, in such a "race", when something goes down at the head of the pack, it's very difficult for those behind to do much else than to fall. Violence committed in one direction becomes turned in the other; rage begets rage.
Many of us who don't feel directly connected to these events shake our heads in dismay. We become disheartened, hopeless. Yet I often forget that I am part of a larger peloton that is our society, our culture, even our human race. And, as I mentioned above, that peloton is rife with violence. As I coast along amongst the other riders, I become somewhat indifferent to what is going on around me, as long as I don't have to expend to much energy to keep going. Rather than win, rather than be a part of the break-away, I am content.
The events of the last few weeks demand more of me, of us, than simply to be carried along by the winds of the crowds and the media. It is incumbent upon us to find an opening, an opportunity, to move beyond the pack, to become a leader. Each of us will, of necessity, need to do this as we can; we bring different skill sets to the "race". Some of us are better suited to direct action; others in coalition-boiling, still others publicity/marketing. In the best of all possible worlds, we will find like-minded, like-hearted, companions to multiply our efforts.
The now-clichéd phrase "Our thoughts and prayers are with . . . " needs to be retired. It must be replaced with "Pray as if it all depended on God, but act as if all depended on you." That is, despite our various spiritualities, we have to all make a common commitment to "any day, any time, gain time on the race".