Schindler's Bike

by Wade Nelson

My cycling escape route from Austin took me through a cemetery. Each trip through the graveyard reminded me of what was buried there. Not loved ones, not old people, not even well-fed worms, rather, everything these people wanted to do or dreamed of doing while they were alive, but never made time for. Every bike ride they never took. There was a lot of unfinished business in that cemetery, and the voices all said the same thing to me: Do it now. Don't wait or delay. Listen to your heart. Do whatever is it you want to accomplish NOW, before you join us here. Start RIGHT now, and do it with all of your heart.

It was like having Jesus, Goethe, and a Nike sales rep all speaking to me at once. We only regret, it seems, the things we were afraid to do. Like quitting our jobs to bicycle across the country.

To me a cemetery isn't sacred ground. It's just a park. A garden with nice walkways. I (still) number among the living, and my bicycle wheels can't help but laugh a little at the graves upon which they roll. Graveyards are entirely too somber. While others might feel a need to be solemn and respectful, I simply feel appreciative of the nice asphalt paths. I appreciate this place for what it really is, which is a beautiful garden and a convenient shortcut. I'm sure this is how the dead would want me to see it. If not for my shortcut through the cemetery I'd have to ride down a busy and dangerous street .

It used to be people were buried next to the church they went to. The inevitability of death stared you in the face each time you attended church. Anything dealing with the hereafter brought you within six feet of the not so deeply buried evidence that here and now is all the opportunity there is to touch, feel, taste, hear, and see, whether it be a lover, a sunset, a baby, the ocean, or a forest. For me, that reminder comes cycling through the cemetery.

Americans today are so busy trying to stay fit and look healthy I think they've forgotten dying is part of the plan. Letting go of the fear of death must be the best part about actually doing it, seeing the approaching peace, accepting the inevitable cessation of life. Instead, we hide death and dying.

I know cycling is dangerous. Bicycle daily for two years, and you're going to get hit or run off the road at least once. One of those incidents may kill you. Unlike other cyclists I neither ignore the possiblity of death or shrink from it. When my numbers up, it’s up. I just hope its a good clean hit.

"I am doing what I love, bicycling" I mumbled to myself as I pedaled past the tightly arranged gravesites. "It is a gorgeous day and I do not wish to be anywhere else, doing anything else. At least for this moment, this instant in time, I am truly living. " The caretakers do an excellent job, with old, well cared for trees providing shade, exquisitely manicured green grass, no weeds, and no traffic. I only wished the cemetary was larger. Rod Steward was a grave digger, did you know that? Maybe he got the same inspiration, heard the same voices I did. It has always appeared to me he's someone who has lived and is still living fully.

Harold and Maude understood. Maybe they heard the voices too. To live fully means you need to keep death in the overall picture. These two movie characters would attend strangers funerals to remind themselves of this fact. While the movie focused on their obsession with death, in a campy sort of way, there was also the reminder given out to live. Take risks. Truly live. Don't fear the reaper.

What about the well-dressed people who come to put flowers on their loved ones's graves or are still in the process of planting them and see some idiot like me in neon lycra? Someone pumping the pedals with no intention of stopping to pay respect to anything. Should I stop, get off my bike, bow my head, say something reverent, and then go on my way? Maybe I could say something like "Thank you all for such a well maintained bikepath" under my breath so as to appear reverent, and cross myself in the shape of a Shimano derailler. It would, at least, be honest.

Sometimes I say a little prayer asking for divine safety before I go out riding. Cycling is about the riskiest thing I do. One time I had a blowout coming down a mountain pass at 40 m.p.h.. My bike began to fishtail, with each swipe taking me closer to the asphalt than before. I fully expected to crash on the very next fishtail. I prepared myself mentally, knowing I was going to be hurt, real bad. Suddenly, amazingly, I found myself upright and able to safely stop. I'll always wonder if that was the day my prayer was answered. I know it wasn't anything I did that straightened my bike out of that wicked fishtail but, instead, the Hand of God, whatever that is.

In "Schindler's List" the Nazis used Jewish gravestones to pave a road into one of the concentration camps. Despite it being a total desecration I thought it made for a truly beautiful, one of a kind roadway. You would never forget having traveled upon such a pathway. It would remind each person who passed upon it of the finality of life, and importance of living fully up till that very last moment, no matter what the circumstances. Of never giving up on hopes and dreams.

Not that anyone today would consider such a thing, using gravestones to pave bikeways. Instead we have thousands of military crosses which shall dot the hillsides of places like Arlington, Normandy, and Point Loma until eternity, and ornate gravestones of the rich and powerful which only rain and wind shall ever begin to erode. I'd prefer to see them all used to pave bike paths and sidewalks for use by the living. The deceased's name being completely smoothed away might signify that they could now rest in total peace.

Death comes only once in each lifetime. Until then you can cycle through the cemetery as many times as you want, until you too, must sag your final ride home.