It was a summer when I was in Junior High School. They called it Jr. High and not “Middle School” back then (which, by the way, is just a ridiculous way to describe an educational era, but that’s a topic for another day). I was riding bikes with a friend. We had old clunkers (long before they were fashionable): big, white-walled tires, one gear, rear pedal brakes, wide handle bars, striped fenders, and a bell). These are sold as “classic” models these days; back then they were decidedly not classic (nor even fashionable–certainly not “awesome” or “epic” or “legit”; nay, not even “cool”).
Anyway…we were heading down a long steep hill on a street in an old mill town in Western Massachusetts. As we were heading down the hill, we were doing various things that I later told my own children to never try…weaving in and out of traffic; off and on the shoulder of the road. And, in those primeval times, there were no bicycle helmets, fewer seat belts, and even fewer motorcycle helmets.
Anyway (again)…as we headed down the hill, my friend (whose name has been redacted to spare him mocking by his own progeny) decided to really show off. [Now, showing off presumes there is some audience for the display–usually, for junior high boys, the desired audience is junior high girls; since there were none of those within sight I later wondered exactly for whom we were “showing off.”]
My friend decided to demonstrate the time-honored “no hands” technique. He did it really well and managed to maintain course, heading, bearing, and speed all the while. I was impressed enough to give the “no hands” technique a go myself. And, I am still very proud to say, I did it with equal aplomb. But, not to be glossed over in junior high history annals as a mere follower, I decided to augment my “no hands” technique with the rarely seen (and legendary–we’re talking Knights of the Round Table or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. legendary) “no feet” technique. So, I temporarily placed my hands back on the handle bars one at a time while I placed my feet up over the handle bars (I had to lift my left leg up over the bicycle’s bell–a tricky move which induced some unwanted bicycle wobble) and brought them into the center of the handle bars so that they were securely in place on the handle bars…feet neatly touching and resting right over the bike’s top tube.
Once my feet and legs were in place, I lifted both hands from the handlebars and “presto” I was riding “no hands” and “no feet.” I looked over at my friend, wind whipping through my hair, a look of conquest on my face and said, “Look! No hands or feet!!” in that triumphant tone known well in junior high school boy circles.
[I did catch a momentary glance of what I later realized was “mouth agape” disbelief (you know, the cartoon kind–the jaw plummets to the ground and the entire mouth is left open like the entrance to some great cave) on the part of a passing car’s driver.]
However…my feelings of bicycling superiority and, yea, even near manly majesty, were quickly replaced by the sensation (at first ignored) that my entire bicycling enterprise was slowly listing to the right. Then, realization and gravity both firmly set in. Gravity, in particular, took hold in its insistent kind of way and we (that is, me and my bike…which, though chagrined at being ridden by such an idiot, was nonetheless gamely going down for the count with me) continued the glacially paced tipping to our right side.
I can only think that it was those super wide, white-walled tires that kept us up for as long as we were up. And then, just as we (my bike and I) were nearly parallel to the ground, I had two near simultaneous thoughts: (1) I was going to die and, (2) how was I going to explain my crumpled bike to my parents?
[Those of you with more wits than I could corral at that moment will realize that if (1) came about, then (2) would clearly not be my problem. But then junior high boys caught up in misadventure rarely muster anything remotely resembling keen intellect–Harry Potter notwithstanding.]
Finally we (my trusty bike and I) came into contact with the asphalt; we were probably going at least 40 miles an hour (I don’t know for sure; we didn’t have speedometers on our bikes in those days; we just relied on keeping up with the cars to gauge our speed.) Once in contact with the asphalt we slid for several yards before coming to an abrupt halt caused by a close encounter of the concrete curb kind.
And–I was not dead! [I did have an abrasion the size of Fenway Park (Did you see how I snuck baseball in there? Clever, huh!) down the entire length of my right arm.] More importantly though…my bike was not crumpled!! The handle bars would require some crude adjustment to once again be perpendicular to the rest of the bike and the right pedal had somehow been folded into a very cool “V” shape. But all of that could be explained away using typical junior high school boy (JHB) syntax.
[Parent, “Why are your handle bars and pedal messed up?” JHB, “Ummm…are they? I ummm…don’t know. Maybe (insert name of any friend away on vacation here in valiant attempt to thwart fact checking) did it?” Parent, “Isn’t (reinsert previous name here) out of town?” JHB, “I dunno…is he?” You can play this game forever; you just keep inserting different names until said parent assesses that the observed bicycle damage is not in the catastrophic range and loses interest. Parent will then move on to, “What happened to your arm?” JHB, “My arm, ummm slid hard into second?” Parent, “Where’s your glove?” JHB, “Ummm…I dunno…must be around here somewhere.”]
So I survived that moment of junior high stupidity. As I’ve reflected on that experience over the years, I’ve thought several things. Two primary things stick out: (1) How could I be so utterly stupid? But then, since I was a JHB, “stupid” was pretty much the default “operating system” for my life. But, (2–which only eventually came to me) was, how important it is to keep one’s focus on the main thing. In that case, showing off with stupid stunts was not the main thing (especially since there were no junior high school girls around); riding the bike was the main thing.
God is good; I was not killed (and my bike was not crumpled beyond repair). But less distraction than I experienced that day has been enough to derail the most significant of endeavors. And that’s a shame–particularly in the Body of Christ.
I suppose this memory hits me at this time of year when I look around and see the so many (and so many well-intended) distractions of the Christmas Season. How far we have come from the amazement of simple shepherds encountering the Baby Jesus for the very first time. Wrapping (and rapping) and lights and K-Mart Joe Boxer commercials and Santa and Rudolph and the latest Hunger Games movie release and wars and rumors of wars and, well…you get the point, all have the potential to keep us from focus on the main thing–the main person: Jesus.
“For me to live is Christ,” the Apostle Paul said. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” the Apostle Peter said. If we lived 364 days with Paul’s motto in mind and we lived 364 days with Peter’s realization in mind, I think we would be less distracted and more focused as the 365th day (Christmas) approached. We would be less prone to “fall off our bikes” doing stupid stunts and more likely to see past the distractions and discover the living Lord Jesus just there…behind the hustle, the bustle, and the tussles. Jesus: calling us to Himself; encouraging us to be laser sharp in our focus on Him…His will and His ways and His work.
© All rights reserved. Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.