I built a bicycle.
Not just any bike, but one modeled after a Dutch “bakfiet” which in the Netherlands is kinda like the station wagon of bicycles. Its about eight feet long and has a large wooden cradle in front of the person doing the pedaling. The bike was built so that I could take Bethany for bike rides with her sitting ahead of me rather than behind, stuffed into a Burley that had a weight limit we’d surpassed about two years ago. Her fascination with spinning things, like bicycle tires, made for a dangerous ride for both of us.
The bike is quite an oddity; long and low with the steering located mid-ship. The proportions, nearly as bizarre as those of a camel and in many ways, not at all unlike the people riding her. We get two kinds of reaction: big smiles and waves or absolute blank stares, devoid of emotion, context or comprehension. Bethany’s favorite thing to do while riding is to simply, loudly, scream. Blood-curdling yet happy, her screams are heard long in advance of our approach, which gives small children plenty of time to run to the street to see what the commotion is all about. I’ve taken to adding bouquets of colorful, plastic flowers to the cradle portion of the bike and on the front headset, a sizeable plastic eagle. It’s the hood ornament on my station wagon bicycle. Needless to say, every day is parade day while riding this beauty.
At first Bethany was a little hesitant about getting in but once she realized that she could hold my hand while we pedaled around the neighborhood, acceptance was gained. Bear in mind that at age 15, Bethany weighs upwards of 100lbs. That’s a lot of Korean to hustle around on a bike while holding hands.
The beauty of all of this is that when we ride - there is no dignity, no control, little semblance of order and absolutely no selfish pride. When we ride, we’re the most socially vulnerable people on earth; open to the judgment of all yet beholden to none and the freedom from concern is the most liberating thing in my life. If she screams, throws food overboard, rips her diaper and stuffs her deflated ball on the top of her head…it simply doesn’t matter. If I, at a moments notice hop on the bike with her, I care not how I look, smell or present myself, as there is neither selfishness nor gain to be had.
Together we ride, enjoying the view, smiling at the cars while screaming at the top of our lungs. This letting go, lying back in the water of life and releasing the grip I think I have on my destiny affords me a freedom that few ever experience; the freedom from self.