I only sort of promise that this post is about bikes… 🙂
There’s family, there are people who feel like family, and there are people who would have been closer family if it weren’t for unfortunate circumstances. In this case it’s death.
My dad’s sister, Laurie, died suddenly in a ski accident when I was 1 year old. She and her husband, Paul, had gotten married 11 months earlier, putting him on the track to be an influential uncle in my later life. That sudden instance on Christmas eve in 1991–which I have absolutely no recollection of–changed a lot of future circumstances for a lot of people. For me, that event meant that I grew up understanding my dad’s family was two parts, not three. Paul was within the realm of the third part (third sibling) that was then suddenly removed from my consciousness before I recognized that consciousness exists.
So it felt important in the human relation sense when I came to Seattle and stayed with Paul and his current wife, Mila, while I explored the city by bike and got my NOLS Wilderness First Aid/CPR certification. I had known them on and off over the years–every now and then they had come to visit our extended family when we were all together–but everyone had lost touch. Life circumstances move us on. So it goes.
I was nervous to call them to ask for a place to stay. I felt like a stranger, even though this distant past suggests otherwise. But this bike tour precedence helped me overcome that. On a bike, I am extremely aware of my dependence on the generosity and hospitality of others. I am careful, but vulnerable nonetheless. I try to embrace what that vulnerability enables–an increased reliance on trust and a heightened sense of human interconnectedness.
Traveling alone by exposed bicycle means putting myself in open-ended circumstances that rely on sometimes-strangers. I’m sure that sentence sounds terrifying to my mother. I’m also sure that it is a recipe for welcoming enriching moments with people whom I may not have encountered as such otherwise.
Such it is with Paul and Mila. As I said before, I don’t think I would have had the guts to call them to ask for a floor to crash on under other circumstances. Bike travel induced that.
So I’ve been here for 4 1/2 days, and staying with them has been more enriching than I could have imagined. It’s a re-connection for both me and my family. And that I am tempted to add ‘re’ before ‘connection’ seems significant since I was only a year old when his wife, my aunt died. What does it mean to have a family connection, anyway?