I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. This happened last night as I was biking home from work around midnight. As an explanatory note, I live in Vancouver but work in Portland. My trip to work consists of a 30-minute bicycle trip to where I catch Route 4 to Delta Park, transfer to the Max light rail (which gets me to downtown Portland), and finally catch Route 54 to the Portland Christian Center, where I work. Then I do it all over again after I get off work. I spend about six hours commuting each day, which seems impossible given the actual distance involved. But it’s true; I’ve timed it.
I’m grateful to be working and all, but something seems wrong about spending three quarters as much time commuting as I do working. I’ve been doing this for two weeks now, racking my brain to come up with a way to shorten the commute. After all my research, I have come up with four alternatives:
1. Buy a helicopter.
2. Get a reliable vehicle, insurance and finally get around to obtaining my Oregon driver’s license (my Alaska license expired some time after I moved here). This is roughly as feasible as option 1 given my finances at the moment.
3. Live at Portland Christian Center. I asked the pastor and he said no.
4. Do more bicycling—lots more.
My thinking changed course drastically last night. I was relieved when I got on my bicycle for the last leg of my trip home to find that the rain had slowed to a light drizzle. Then, about five minutes into the ride, the rain picked back up. Then it picked up some more. Soon I was being pelted by great, fat drops of rain. They were hitting hard because I was riding as fast as I could in an irrational effort to outrun them.
I put my hat on but not my hood, since it obscures my vision. (I get to choose between blindness and the flu.) I put my wallet and cell phone into my innermost pocket and kept pedaling. I confess that I was grumbling at this point, even though I knew this was coming. I live in the Pacific Northwest, after all. But you can never really adjust to a situation until it is finally upon you. My tires were throwing up so much water that it was spraying up over my rear mud fender onto me. I remarked to myself that this was an impressive violation of several laws of physics. My front fender has been missing since last year, so liberal quantities of mud were splashing onto me from the front. I was now just as wet as if I’d been standing bare naked in the shower. Perhaps more. I began squinting to prevent dirt particles
from getting underneath my contact lenses. Even in the midst of my irritation, I mused that this was ideal fodder for one of those old Saturday Night Live sketches where Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest work as maintenance men on the graveyard shift. They’re always riding the elevator discussing how they had clumsily hurt themselves. I can just hear Christopher Guest saying, “Man, I was riding my bike the other night, and a bunch of little pebbles got stuck under my contacts.” Then Billy Crystal: “Yeah, that really smarts. I hate it when that happens.”
I was thoroughly soaked and cursing the world when I had a profound realization: it rains on this planet. And just because I’m used to being clean and dry doesn’t mean I have some sort of God-given right to stay that way. For all my muttering, whenever I find fault with Mother Nature (that is, God), He invariably says, “Show me the statute.” We humans, in fact, have precious few rights, and the rights we have almost never end up accommodating our comfort and convenience. This occasion was no exception. Not only was Mother Nature not being helpful, I can say without any uncertainty that no compunction was felt by anyone, anywhere, over my bedraggled condition. I was the only one on earth who felt that something criminal was occurring.
As I pondered my situation, I realized that I’ve been going about all this from the wrong perspective. I’ve been proceeding as though it were actually possible to go through life perpetually enjoying the benefits of being indoors while still going to and from work, etc. I own six umbrellas. I have them stashed in various places that I frequent and keep one on my person at all times. As I manage all these umbrellas, I sometimes grumble petulantly about the necessity of having to go to such ludicrous lengths just to stay dry, as though the rain were sulfuric acid or something worse. I’ve been spending six hours each day traveling in metal boxes with water-tight ceilings in order to keep dry. In spite of it all, here was Mother Nature getting the upper hand in the end. I could almost hear her laughing and saying, “It doesn’t work that way.”
So to get back to my soaking-wet epiphany: I admitted that I had been essentially crazy about the rain thing. After all, I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for two and half years now. I decided right there on the road that I wasn’t going to try to beat the elements anymore. It hurts too much to be that angry. Besides, I was beginning to feel like a mental case. I wonder how many perfect strangers witnessed me thrashing around in a rage over a little bit of rain.
I decided I wasn’t going to think twice about getting on my bicycle, rain or shine. I would purchase whatever rain gear I needed, outfit my bicycle in whatever ways better accommodated the weather, and then I would greet the cold, wet, dirty world with equanimity. I would work my way up to whatever amount of riding yielded the greatest time savings in my daily commute.
Yesterday was the first day of my new approach to transportation. I biked from my house in the Battleground area of Vancouver clear out to Delta Park, where I would have the option of getting on the light rail. This was my first big push, and it was over 15 miles of biking (although it felt like more). Google Maps told me it would take me an hour and 26 minutes, but I shaved 16 minutes off that estimate. Hah!
The ride felt incredible. I knew I was undergoing a personal revolution when I looked to my right and realized that I was bicycling across the Columbia River. I’ve never done that before. To put this in perspective, this is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest and the fourth largest river in the United States. It is 1,243 miles long and discharges 265,000 cubic feet of water per second. (Before the river was dammed, it discharged 1.25 million cubic feet per second!) Its drainage basin is roughly the size of France. And I bicycled across it yesterday. There is something very cool about that. I couldn’t find statistics on the width of the river at the I-5 Bridge, but the structure is 3500 feet long and accommodates 130,000 cars per day.
After my ride was finished, I gobbled a ham sandwich on the Max and enjoyed my endorphin high. I reflected that this was an exceedingly positive change, and that I wanted more. I also started counting the advantages of my transportation revolution. What had started as a capitulation to the elements turned out to have an assortment of benefits:
1. I save lots of commuting time (a whole hour yesterday).
2. I don’t have to get angry about the rain anymore.
3. I can drop that extra 20 pounds I’ve been sucking in every time I walk past a pretty woman.
4. This will free up plenty of pizza storage space.
5. I’ll have more energy.
6. I’ll experience less stress.
7. I’ll enjoy better mental focus.
8. Endorphins. Lots of endorphins.
As I was compiling this list, I wondered how many lists of benefits I’ve denied myself by seeking comfort. Comfort is bad! But as with so many other things, the greatest difficulty is often getting over having to get my own way about things. We have all heard that “the world doesn’t owe you a living”—usually from parents, bosses or other authority figures. In actuality, there is an almost endless list of things that the world doesn’t owe us, but which nevertheless seem so often to work their way into our sensibilities as entitlements. Not only is there no free lunch, sometimes there is no lunch at all. But now, lo and behold! A large minus has just become a major plus for me.
Through these events, my attention was drawn to God’s hidden blessings, which he has woven craftily into the fabric of life. Although the Lord doesn’t seem to be directly involved in this particular story, he’s been telling me all along that it makes good sense to turn obstacles into advantages whenever I can. The stories of Joseph (Genesis) and Mephibosheth (2 Samuel) come to mind. Who knows how many millions of blessings we humans miss in the maze of our distracted lives! Lord, let more of them be found!