My friend Corey invited me to drive to his house in Arlington to ride our bikes to the rally on Saturday. A five mile peddle into town on my new bike on an adventure! Bliss. As Jon Stewart said, “I’m not exactly sure why we are here,” but I enjoyed everything about the day. During our bike ride down past the Pentagon and across Memorial Bridge we shared in the joviality and spirit of celebration with the mix of pedestrians and cyclists streaming downtown.
The crowd got more and more dense as we made our way to the mall and after a while we were forced to walk our bikes with the throng. Chaining our bikes to a tree I momentarily found myself fearful of leaving my precious new two-wheeler so exposed. But this was a day of non-fear, so I let it go.
I’m somewhat agoraphobic. One reason why I dislike being in crowds is that at over 6’6” with my boots on, my presence automatically generates ill will for those behind me. Corey and I magically found a spot in front of some people sitting down, so that allayed my self-consciousness. They weren’t going to see anything anyway, and weren’t expecting to.
Two women standing next to us were from San Diego. During the opening music there was a spirited discussion about the last World Series game. It felt so ... Wholesome and American.
The rally itself was a mix of good humor, some brilliant humor, great satire and little morality plays exploring the dance of fear and rationality. With so many years living first in the Peace Corps, then in an ashram and now not a big TV watcher, many of the cultural references went zinging right by me, but the spirit of event touched me in many ways.
Moments of little rushes: The enormity and diversity of the crowd. The good cheer and camraderie. The readiness to laugh and the openess to irony. The signs. At some times the sound level was too low, particularly way, way far away, so a chant of ‘Louder! Louder!’ was passed from the back to the front, a distance of many blocks.
Perhaps the most poignant moment for me was at the end when the crowd began to disperse. We moved slowly together, shuffling away from the mall and when I came up to our bikes, they were on their sides, dusty and looked like they’d been trampled on.
I immediately felt anger and started lurching them upright. An Indian man said, “These bikes are locked.”
I replied in a tight voice, “This are our bikes.”
Once I got the bikes upright and saw nothing was damaged beyond dirt and grit all over them, I noticed two young girls in the tree above. I assumed that since the bikes had fallen over, they couldn’t get down. They looked a little frightened.
I figured this man was their father. He was a pretty small guy. Without thinking, I stepped up to the tree and said, “Here, I’ll help you.” I reached up and slipped my hands under the first girl's armpits. She let go of the tree limb and I pulled her toward me, swung her to my side and eased her down to the ground.
The second girl was a little more fearful. I assured her I wasn’t going to let her fall. Eventually, she too let go of the limb and I managed to help her down, though her weight surprised me and she came down a lot faster than I expected.
Around that point I noticed my anger was gone and I started doubting that they were responsible for knocking over the bikes. For whatever reason, the family was either eager to dispel any tension or simply in their own rush of exhuberation. Within a very short period of time, we were bantering about the day and how it went, relaxed and smiling a lot. The father spoke with an Indian accent, but the girls, pre-teens, had strong American accents. I could see how close the family was. They took a photo of me, commemorating me ‘rescuing them from the tree.’ I felt almost reluctant to say goodbye.
That last encounter summarized my day. One of my worst fears was confirmed: I'd discovered my new bike on it’s side and apparently messed up. In minutes I had moved from
1) fear and anger to
2) seeing to someone needing help to
3) responding to
4) seeing beyond my sense of the ‘other’ to
5) deep appreciation and connectedness.
In those minutes I had shifted from 'my bike' and 'my anger' to something far more spacious and magical.
In the absence of "I" and "mine," the mystery arises.