I was driving through downtown Fort Worth yesterday, another soggy, cold day of rain. How many days of this now? But I saw a cyclist slogging his way, awkwardly, gingerly, in and out of the stopped traffic on West 7th. He was intense, focused against the chilly wind and the challenge of navigating a bike on wet pavement. I thought about honking to cheer him on and quickly realized the opposite effect that could have in this context. So, I just said, “Godspeed.”
I guess I was feeling a kinship with him, the weather and traffic reminding me of the 600 ms, 28-day cycling trip I did around Ireland 20 plus years ago. Linda and our son Tim, 12 at the time, dropped me off at the Dublin airport, bike case rolling behind me thru the terminal until I found the airport bike station and put the thing together. 3 hours later they were in the air heading 1000’s miles toward Texas and I was navigating rush hour traffic through Dublin and in the midst of a chilly 53F rain! It rained like that the first 7 days of my trip. I wasn’t the only cyclist on the road, of course. But maybe the only one with pannier packs on the front and back of a bike and cycling like I had no idea of where I was or where I was going! It was intense for the first half hour or so as I tried to figure out which lane I was supposed to be in . . . do we ride opposite or same direction in Ireland? It also took me those 30 minutes or so to also realize that the horn honking wasn’t for me to get out of the way, but was because drivers were trying to help me get in the right lane!
It was a strange reality that didn’t sink in until I had finally cleared the city and was on the farm roads heading southwest to Cork. On the 4th night, I stayed in a youth hostel in the city of Cork. It was a long ride getting there and I was exhausted. I was assigned a bunk room, but to my surprise, the bunks were all empty. It was 10 pm and I had the tiny, 6 bunk room, all to myself! Until about 3 am when 8 college students stumbled in having been pub crawling all night. For the next two hours it was, “Hey, mate. You are from America, right? Texas? You live near the Ewings? What kind of horse do you ride? What’s a tumbleweed?”
They finally collapsed, pretty much in unison, around 5 and I decided to take advantage of the lack of sleep and the early hour to leave Cork before the sun was up and make my way to the ring of Kerry.
I was out in the country with just the occasional house on either side of the road and a random stone church. The rain and wind continued to press against me, and after 3 or 4 hours of pedaling the riding seemed unexplainably sluggish. I was thinking it was just my exhaustion when I looked down and noticed my front wheel wobbling back and forth — broken spokes.
Luckily, I seemed to be near a small village and I could just make out a tiny gas station ahead on my left. The rain was coming down pretty hard and a fog had developed. When I go to the station, I saw that it was an odd little trailer house, with a single gas pump barely sheltered. So I got in as close as I could to the pump and flipped my bike to try and fix the wheel.
The place looked closed. Or maybe abandoned. It was a Sunday and everything was closed. The rain made finding and adjusting the spokes extremely challenging, and frustrating. But when I stopped to take a deep, anxious breath, I saw an older man come out of the trailer, carrying a thermos, and a wrapped plate.
He laughed and said, “I think if you turn it over it works better!” If it weren’t for the fact that he was carrying hot tea and sandwich for me, I might not have thought the comment funny. But I smiled and the man helped me get the bike up under his trailer awning where I could dry off a bit.
He asked me what I was doing in Ireland and we talked about family – why mine let me go off on my own for 4 weeks, why many of his left for America a generation ago, why so many come back and how easy it would be to harbor some resentment or bitterness toward them except for the feeling that we are all family now, somehow.
Then he brought out a wider selection of tools to help make some adjustments to the bike, including the wheel and spokes. I thanked him for the sandwich and the advice on how to adjust the spokes to compensate for the missing ones. “The main thing to remember,” he smiled, “Kindness will keep it trued.”
As I was packing up the bike and rain let up slightly, he asked me where I was headed to next. I said, ultimately, Donegal (about 4 more days . . .). But on the way, I hope to find William Butler Yeats’ grave!
He said, “Well, there you have it. One of the great literary wonders of Ireland!” And I smiled and said, “Exactly!” And he said, “No. I mean there you have it.” He pointed across the road. “It’s right there in the chapel graveyard across the road! Don’t you think it must’ve been an angel brought you here?”
It was tempting to think so. It’s often tempting to see divine agency in certain things and not others. Years later, I’m thinking maybe he was the part-time priest for that little church. But then I realize all moments are “God moments” as one of my friends likes to call those moments of unexpected kindness or insight or connection. And all of us, priests of kindness and agents of connection and hope. And at all times, aware or unaware, we are always standing on sacred ground.
This Sunday, in eleven:eleven, I conclude the series The Art of Gathering: How We Do It and Why it Matters as we look at our stories in light of the curious story of the Pharisee, Gamaliel from the book of Acts. He’s only mentioned twice in the New Testament, but his story is especially curious for that very reason and the fact that whole schools of thought and religious practice were spawned from that moment, that story. And not so unlike some of our own stories which may seem of little significance, we might ask could this moment of kindness and reflection have been a turning point in history? A God moment? Or simply another act of kindness?
We’ll hear the music of the Eagles, Lady Gaga, and Phillip Phillips among others. I hope to see you then!
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven