I bought my Trek 820 Mountain Bike in 1994 in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. It was dark green with thick rugged tires that allowed me to traverse easily over the bumpy paths of some of that city’s urban trails.
I remember tree-shaded paths in what felt like an urban jungle. Dirt under my tires, lean bikers like me at the time careening through partially-trod paths beneath the concrete pathways of our nation’s capitol. I remember feeling free as I sped past the overgrowth and the humid sunshine filtered through the tall trees all around, feeling like I could do anything, go anywhere, be anyone.
I still ride that bike.
Many times I’ve pondered whether it might finally be the time to let it go and buy something new. But each time I took the bicycle to a local bike shop to see if it was beyond repair, I learned that it is still in fact a good ride. A bit rusty, perhaps, and definitely out of date, but it gets the job done.
I move, I ride, I feel the wind through my hair and against my expectant face, and I feel that surge of freedom rising up, as if I were back in post-college bliss and wonder of what lay ahead, who I would pair up with, work alongside, become.
In 1994, I was 23. I was unattached, independent, spending weekends at a friend’s farm in southern Virginia, my morning coffee tasting like the fresh breathable air of the Shenandoah foothills with just-milked cream splashed in for sweetness.
I worked as a journalist at a weekly Jewish newspaper and devoted nights to a master’s degree in poetry. I read, I wrote, I spun tales of a life yet-lived, of characters who thrived only in my imagination. Anything was possible.
How does the world look two decades later? Well, I still ride the same bicycle, and today as it took me to the bank and back again in the middle of a cool late-August morning, with blue skies and sun-licked clouds overhead, I realized that the bike can represent something so important.
Standing the test of time. The idea that we don’t really need much to be new to live a good life.
How often do I dip into local stores in search of a gift for myself, a new shirt, a bottle of perfume? How often do we spend without thinking?
The latest in food, wine, home furnishings, makeup, clothing. There is so much to buy. And we do. We indulge and we spend and we convince ourselves that it is all driven by wise decisions, all in some sort of need.
The truth sings from deep within, and we hardly ever stop to listen to its song.
What do I really need?
The best parts of my week have been without money attached:
- Rowing last night in bouncy waves on the Detroit River, the cloud-spattered sky overhead a brilliant gray canvas
- My three children cuddling close in my bed Monday night to watch a funny ’90s movie until we were too tired to stay awake
- An eager jaunt through forested landscape yesterday at Cranbrook, seeing the pond, the Japanese gardens, the fountains, the flowers as if for the very first time, as it is every single time, in every season
- Listening to my son chant from the bimah at synagogue last Saturday, and learning with our rabbi in the quiet of the small sanctuary
- Sitting down together for Sabbath meals lovingly prepared by careful hands
- Strolling through the Farmers Market with my little guy early Saturday morning to bring home the bounty of our native land
- A late-afternoon call yesterday with a favorite friend, knowing someone in the world is there to hear when your soul cries
While there are monetary costs attached to these endeavors, they’re not high. The point is the focus on loftier pursuits, and gathering among people who matter, who enhance our lives, who warm our hearts.
Yesterday morning, breakfast with my youngest son and a dear friend, ostensibly to discuss work but really to give hugs and see a face so familiar it’s as if we are linked by blood. Those are the moments that matter.
When I rode this bike, I was reminded of all the timeless opportunities of a good life – the quick trips to the library to borrow good books, the willingness to just be home because we don’t always have to run off to the next place and event.
I can keep this bike until it literally falls apart, if it ever does. And it will serve me well, bring me joy and exhilaration and a pumping heart so full of happiness, I don’t really need to buy anything new.