Wednesday, September 10, 2014

repair and return: a video

Today, a few days before I head to Kansas for my first out-of-town High Holy Days pulpit as a cantorial soloist, I had a bad case of the jitters. I've prepared, of course -- had a productive practice session today, even -- but I am feeling at loose ends, not connected here or there or anywhere really. So I went for a little bike ride. Within a few blocks of home it became a scavenging mission, and when I was done I'd added three wheels to my collection of found parts. One front wheel was trashed, save for the skewer, which became the skewer for the other front wheel which was actually okay. The one rear wheel in the bunch was semi-taco'ed, with obvious bends in the rim. I figured I'd try and make it at least ridable if not near-perfect again. I set about, first loosening the spokes a bit, then whacking the rim against my stool in the worst-bent spots, then readjusting the spoke tension until the wheel was true enough and tensioned consistently enough to be ridable again. In a week where I felt unsure of the work ahead and my ability to do right by it, I needed to step back for a little while into tasks I knew I was fully capable of, if only to remind myself that I can learn, and grow, and do some good in the world.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the two holiest days of the Jewish year, give Jews an opportunity to get clear of past mistakes and to think about how to let go of old behaviors and thought patterns that no longer serve us well. Like a bicycle wheel, a person is prone to damage, to regular dings and dents from traveling under load and over many miles. A wheel can be trued again, made straight so it can be ridden again. The wheel isn't ever as good as new; molecules change their position in the metal's composition as dents and bumps affect the rim. But the wheel can be repaired and made serviceable for many more miles.

Maybe it's like that for the human heart. Life will hit us all, hard sometimes; and we will be changed by those jolts and bumps along the way. Our molecules will change position slightly as we grow and age. Skin loses elasticity; hair turns gray, wrinkles line the corners of our mouths and eyes. And our hearts bear the marks of a life lived, embracing both pain and joy as we travel down the road. Some believe that the heart can be made good as new through repentance, through returning and making amends where we have missed the mark. Others believe that a broken, contrite heart is holier than one that has not yet been broken. Whatever the case, I am old enough that I find I need this time of year, to take stock, make repairs in my life choices and relationships with those around me, and to begin again, straightened (perfectly ridable, though far from perfect) and ready to move forward towards whatever lessons this next year may bring.

If you inhabit the always interesting intersection between Judaism and bikes, I wish you and yours a Shanah Tovah.  May you be inscribed for a sweet year.
For the rest, enjoy the beauty of this autumn and safe, happy riding always!

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