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Bicycle Story

michael burnside
On Difference (July 2015)
Inward Light

Now that bitterness and hard-heartedness were no longer a very real threat, I no longer needed to be bicycling, particularly in the heat and humidity of late June in North Carolina. I still needed to get on to Savanna, George, but I had no need of a bicycle any more. Nor did I need all the bicycle stuff: tools, helmet, panniers, etc. I thought I’d just leave it all on the steps of a church. I have done so before.

The morning’s ride started better than the previous evening’s. The temperature was cooler, and the road had shifted back to an older format, which had farmhouses spaced out along it, giving me access to water. I drank a lot.

At the sign that said, “Greenville – Five Miles,” I was tired, but doing OK. I rounded the corner and saw the next sign, “Welcome to Greenville.” I had not traveled five miles. I planned on using the computer at the public library to find the costs of tickets on Amtrak, Greyhound, and Megabus. By now, it was hot. It was humid. And the library was in the town center five miles away, which I learned from a crew cutting grass in a schoolyard.

I headed down the road, and as I passed through an intersection, I noticed a young, physically fit black man waiting to cross with the light. He had a binder under one arm and looked like he had just finished a job interview. As I bicycled by, I chose to wish him well and hold him up in the Light (silently), asking God to consider helping him to get the job. Look at me, loving my brother, being the good person who wishes random unknown people well; wishing this black person well in this South that presses him down continuously. I press back! . . . OK, maybe I was not quite that bad. I did truly desire good for him, but not as an equal.

It was hot. It was humid. And five miles is actually a long way if you have already biked for most of a morning. There was a sidewalk, and I started walking my bike. The young black man passed me, walking. Maybe we nodded to each other. My memory slips. I do remember thinking: Once I was young and walked like that. I felt a little dizzy and did not want to get back on my bike. I like walking. I had a goal. I wanted. I wanted to get to the library. I had run out of water. The young man had all but disappeared ahead.

The road divided. The lanes going into town went over a bridge. I started walking my bike on the sidewalk over the bridge when I heard from behind me, “Sir? Sir!” I turned and it was the young black man, semi-running, semi-jogging to catch up to me. He had gone into a gas station convenience store. He was smiling. I felt dread, thinking, “Shit, he’s going to ask me for a dollar.” I did not want to give him one.

In a surly voice, I asked that horrible middle-class question, “Can I do something for you?” Meaning, of course, that I did not want to, but it was my place to do something for him, or not. He smiled and said, “No sir, I just wanted to give you some water.” He had bought me two large bottles of spring water.

It was hot. It was humid. I was a world-class ass. I accepted the water. I said thank-you for the water. I did not find the courage to apologize for the tone of voice I had used when I first responded to him. Having passed the water on to me, he walked on. Young and fast. Like I used to be. And black, in the south, like I never was.  ~~~

Michael Burnside has worshipped with several Friends communities in Northern California, including San Francisco Monthly Meeting, College Park Quarterly Meeting, the Woolman Semester at Sierra Friends Center, and Berkeley Friends Church. The story above was excerpted from a longer one, which is posted at: westernfriend.org/media/bicycle-story-unabridged

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