there is a felt-burlap banner at the top of my parents' stairs, and it displays a fading excerpt from the bible.
i've forgotten the details, but i remember the gist: sell all of your stuff, give the profits to the poor, and go follow jesus. it was more personal than that, written in the first person and with much more inviting verbiage, but the main point was clear - get rid of your stuff, do something meaningful.
as i stood there doing the dishes and folding laundry for the past hour and a half, i had time to ponder what i remembered. i had other memories creep into consciousness, and i had questions from my day. this all came back to me in remembering that message of getting rid of stuff and doing something meaningful.
working with youth, there is the daily preponderance of the inevitable question: is any of this worth it? the obvious answer is YES. the immediate answer is: maybe..maybe no..sometimes..i don't know let's just drink...
there is a hill that extends from my parents driveway at a steep grade up into the trees and forest beyond. for some as yet undetermined reason, nothing seems to grow on this hill other than scrub brush and things that have somehow migrated from the badlands of south dakota (no, not your uncle or his pet weasel named Zak). after i got my first really fancy mountain bike, a 1997 specialized S-works cross country in dew green with a ti spring manitou and mavic 217s and xtr stuff and whatnot, i was sitting around at my parents' place, probably whining about something or waxing eloquent about something, and my dad got tired of it. he challenged me to ride up the hill. the hill that nothing grows on, and that tops out at an overhang of pine tree roots covered in sandy moss and pine needles. that hill. i had never been able to ride up something that steep, unless it was rock or stairs. but now i had a fancy bike with fancy wheels and tires and 24 speeds and front suspension and...
i sprinted from the parked cars to the base of the hill, jammed a few crank lengths into it, shifted the gears, shifted my weight, threw everything i had at it, and topped out just a bike length or two past halfway.
it is not a long hill.
i tried several more times. at best, i made it within a bike length from the top, but with absolutely nothing left for what would inevitably be a very technical summit move. more often than not, the backwards dismounts were hairy and awkward (not unlike the youth of my work). dismayed, pissed off, and pretty disappointed at all the fancy shit my ass could not pull up a little hill in my parents' backyard, i sat back down and probably sulked. (thankfully, my specific memory is grainy and faded at this part.)
my friend j is a ballsy woman. she always has been. she is tall and blond and pretty and walks with a loping gate reminiscent of some graceful savannah animal. we met in high school. she rode bikes. i rode bikes (though not as much as i talked about, read about, and thought about riding them). she was older. i was shorter. i had a crush on her. we wrote letters. we rode bikes. j and i have started writing again, epic e-mails about everything from life to bikes to everything. she told me a little about why she was the woman i've perceived as ballsy - she always wanted to play and get dirty and give it a good hard go and not give up, because that seemed to be the most honest way to connect and experience something. i believe it is. and there weren't a lot of other girls for her to play with and get dirty and give a good hard effort, so she ended up doing the hard things with boys. she rode bikes. hard. and fast. she did her first triathlon the same summer i did mine and completed the whole thing despite screaming knees and a bike that was so small, her knees kept shifting the stem-mounted levers as she pedaled. she didn't want to be left behind. she didn't want to be 'waited for'. and as i recall, i don't think i ever had to wait for her. (she would definitely be waiting for me these days.)
j came over that night back in high school. she spent the odd evening or day or days at our house, and it was always great to have her. my little brothers loved her and the attention and game for anything attitude she always brought to the scene. she was a friend of my sister's. she was a great friend of mine. as she got out of the car and took out her modest little trek with that yellow rock shox quadra fork, i went in to tell my brothers that she was here, and my dad went to greet her.
i opened the porch door to see j walking toward the house with my dad, laughing about something as the sun sent shadows skipping along the grass and dinner smelled delicious. she was just slightly out of breath. my dad looked at me and said, 'j got up the hill on her first try.'
i smiled, stifling jealousy.
how did she do it? what skill did she have that i didn't? isn't her bike too small and too old and too...? HOW?
naturally, being the suave, mature, calm, and collected intellectual individual i was, i calmly asked her to demonstrate just how she had accomplished the unimaginable.
'prove it! do it again!'
effortlessly, j tossed her blonde hair, turned to mount her bike, and pedaled smoothly--almost slowly--up the hill at a reasonable and calm cadence. there was some effort and determination, but absolutely no flailing or cursing. she aimed, applied force, and achieved. she even made coming down look smooth and graceful. damn.
after days like today, the inevitable question bubbles to the surface: are the youth worth it? then the usual thought process begins, rationalizing why they are or are not (depending on blood sugar and/or blood alcohol levels), what i could be doing instead, and ultimately there is a lengthy dissertation that melds richard sachs with rapha with ira ryan and takes place in a hawaii-like rendition of portland that is easily reachable by my family in ontario. it's a daydream.
yes, of course they're worth it. just not every day. not every time. in the long run, yes, the youth are worth it. they must be. i was a youth once, and i needed someone to work with me, a whole village and two countries in fact, to save my sorry ass from myself. no, the work does not feel like it is fulfilling or perfectly purposeful every second of every day, BUT, in general, in the core, the ur of it, it is meaningful and purposeful and worthwhile.
we need work. we need income. we need to be 'productive'. we need neuvation wheels and carbon seatposts. no. wait. we need to be fulfilled. yes. sell all you have. give it away. go do something meaningful. i don't think a lot of this is done by my immediate fellow society members. i think most people don't want to think, not this much anyway, and work because they need to pay for things that they need to have so that they feel like their work is worthwhile. yeah yeah, we all saw fight club and now we can wax anti-consumerism and talk about the people in haiti and put some perspective on and feel better for having considered 'the other' today. i think there's meaningful work that needs to be done while the youthful optimism and drive are there. i think this meaningful work needs to be continued as we age and gain wisdom and patience and lend these newfound qualities to the work that needs doing. i don't think we can buy satisfaction but i think we can earn it. i think i need fewer upgrades and more saddle time. i think i need to work harder and think less.
i think i need to take aim, pedal hard and steady, and get over it.