Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Like Riding a Bike

There are some things you never forget.  And some things that you never forget how to do.   Sometimes you return to things.   And sometimes they return to you. 

My blogs have been so darn heavy lately, that I have been trying to make a deliberate effort to think only halcyon thoughts.  The other day I was thinking about what "peace of mind" feels like.  I closed my eyes and thought of my Semester at Sea voyage.  One of the stops was Vietnam.  I signed up to be a Trip Leader on an excursion through the Mekong Delta.  We took these tiny boats called sampans to a small island in the middle of the Mekong.  There was a very old man named Mr. Dragon who had a fruit farm there and he also made moonshine.  There were boa constrictors and there were rice fields that seemed to go on for miles.  My students and I were presented with rice hats to block out the sun, and we were given bicycles with a big baskets in the front. 

"Go!"  the Vietnamese people told me.  

I went.

And I found my breath.  

The other day I posed the question on facebook to my friends:  "How do you find peace/zen?"  And I received a variety of answers.  Everything from driving down a desert highway at sunset, top down, wind in hair on a summer's night to meditation by candlelight to massages to lying on the couch with a sweet puppy.   I think the most peaceful I've ever felt was that day in Vietnam on a bike.  I had no idea where I was.  No idea where I was going.  All I knew is that the breeze against my face and the freedom of being in a strange place where I didn't know the language was so freeing and liberating.  It was hot that day.  I had on long sleeves and pants to block the mosquitoes.  But I didn't feel unpleasantly hot anymore on that bike.  At first I was uncertain I'd remember how to balance, how to peddle, how to avoid falling over, but it all came back to me like.....well......riding a bike.

Last week I had a long layover in Portland.  So for the first time since that day in 2009 in Vietnam I decided it would be a great city to explore by bicycle.  And my hunch was right: there are trails everywhere along the Willamette River and it is such a beautiful city and there were bicyclists at every turn.  I did notice that I was one of the few bikers without a helmet (nor a rice hat, for that matter.)  But you know what?  When I was a child, I never remember having a helmet.  And we went on bike rides a LOT.  So as much as I am an advocate for avoiding brain injury, I went helmet-less.  Sometimes you gotta throw caution to the wind, right?  Unless you're on a motorcycle.  My brother is an Emergency Room Nurse and is reluctant to share the stories about motorcycle accidents sans helmet.  I digress.....

In addition to peace of mind, I've been also trying to remember happy memories from my childhood.  How do I tie this in to everything else I'm talking about?  Well for one, I remember the day the training wheels came off.  It was such a scary move.  But my dad was right behind me the entire time, holding onto the back of my pink seat.  And then he said "Go!"  Released me into the wind.  And I went! And I remember feeling weak in the knees, shaky, nervousness in the pit of my stomach.  But before I knew it, I was doing it myself.  I was peddling.  I was balancing.  I wasn't falling. Before I knew it, I was poppin' wheelies! 

I guess right now, I kinda feel like my training wheels have come off.  I am still trying to adjust to new surroundings, a new home-base, and  a fairly new career (it's been almost 7 months, but in contrast to my old career which lasted over ten years, it's still relatively new to me.)

So how is Cleveland you ask?  I'm content.  I was able to spend the day with my 16 month nephew the other day. It felt good to hold him on my lap and feed him (and myself) french fries.  He is learning to talk and he is also learning sign language. (Aunt Laurie is trying to pick up some words, too.)  I love having my purring kitty in my lap when I get home from trips.  I love having my own apartment again.  I love the cute restaurants that I can walk to from my apartment. I love the new friends I've made at work.  And again in keeping with the theme of happy childhood memories, I have been trying to embrace things I used to enjoy.  So the other night I went to a Cleveland Indians game.  The ballpark was nearly empty.  I barely recognized any of the players.  And it poured down rain somewhere in the middle of the 5th inning.  But as soon as I bit into the hot dog with Stadium Mustard (a Cleveland tradition- it's this fabulous brown mustard that they only make at Jacob's Field), I was taken back to 1986 when players like Tom Candiotti pitched and Cory Snyder slugged.  And then to 1997 when Albert Bell and Jim Thome and Sandy Alomar and Manny Ramirez helped Cleveland secure the American League pennant.  And it made me smile.   

The other day I was in Chicago on a long layover.  I wandered the streets on a beautiful summer-like day.  I noticed a "Paul Harvey Avenue".  It made me so happy.  My grandad and I used to listen to Paul Harvey at lunchtime and I think I've written a blog before about what a happy memory that was- his soothing voice and his fabulous story-telling skills.  My grandad used to have the radio on the kitchen table, right next to the folded up napkin where he put his coffee mug.  Oh I felt so happy, being reminded of my grandad!  Chicago is a wonderful place.  It felt peaceful and nostalgic being there.  When I was in grad school in Illinois, I visited Chicago frequently.  I almost took a job there after I finished my masters degree, but then moved to New York instead.  Chicago felt warm and comfortable to me.  The city felt clean and friendly.  The city embraced me as if to say "Welcome back, old friend.  I've missed you.  And don't you worry, because I haven't changed a thing."  I had all day, so I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo and ate ice cream and listened to music on my ipod and took pictures of the sklyline.  Pure bliss. 

Since this blog is one of peace, I won't write about how much I miss my old home.  But I will still continue going to New York on my days off.   And I have lunch with friends that I love.  And give strangers directions when they ask me on the street.  I love when that happens, because I know the city as well as I know my own bed.  It's comfortable and familiar.  Will I move back there?  It's in my cards, I think, although I'm uncertain when.  

As for North Carolina, I am slowly phasing it out.  Except I do still have some warm, wonderful friendships there and I will continue to visit.  My friend Angie is adopting a baby from Ethiopia.  And I get to be Aunt Laurie.  To another child.  And I can't wait.  

As for now, I am really trying hard to embrace my surroundings.  And learning how to be happy again.  And how to smile instead of cry every day. And you know what?  It is starting to come back to me.  Just like the people in Vietnam and just like my dad, the Universe said to me one day, "Go!" I think I remember how.  It's like riding a bike.