A New Spirituality

Another old thing I wrote for RKP. I confess, I really like it still.

I turned off the road behind the grocery store and into the woods. The light was dying, ebbing away between the trees, and the roots and rocks of the trail blended into one brown-gray mess. I rattled and bumped along, straining at the pedals as the dirt climbed away up the steep hill. I nearly ran over a rabbit and then another. I hit an invisible rock and my left hand flew away from the bars, my right steadying the front wheel reflexively, my heart racing.

At the top of the climb, I stopped and fished the headlight out of my backpack and slapped it on the bars. I rolled on, looking for the right hand turn that spills you out into the back of the cemetery. The trees seemed to breathe around me.  I took my turn and then slipped through the gap in the fallen stone wall. Headstones hove into view, and the hiss and pop of traffic rose in my ears.

I needed to connect.

A woman in an SUV slowed and let me cross the main road there. A rutted dirt and gravel lane leads away from the cemetery and beyond, where the wildlife sanctuary abuts a wealthy neighborhood, all sprawling, angular, modern houses. The remaining dusk reminded me of staying too late at a friend’s house when I was a kid, flying home on my first BMX, the irritated look on my mother’s face, dinner cold on my plate.

Riding home is riding home. Leave work; autopilot yourself over the same streets; climb the hill. Yell, “I’m home,” at the bottom of the basement stairs. In some ways, it’s not even riding, just transport.

Until you need to connect.

I am not a great believer in things, which is to say that words like ‘spirituality’ are deeply freighted for me. Some words mean so many things to so many different people that they seem to have no meaning at all. When I was a kid, studying philosophy, I had no truck with terms like this. I dismissed them. My idea of philosophy was the search for a perfect, closed system, a way to understand the world, not a way to think about it. This was also just transport, a way of getting from intellectual point A to point B.

Circumstances forced me to define spirituality for myself, to open my mind wide enough to let the world in. Listen. There are connections we make, to each other, to the world around us, that are not visible. You can’t touch them or smell them. They exist, we are sure of it, but any of us would struggle to describe them. It’s love. It’s a sense of belonging, maybe wonder.

I had to turn into the woods to connect again. I felt the bike under me. I picked my way between rock and root, the concentration drawing me into the ride. I needed riding home to be actually riding for a few minutes, not just transport, and it worked. I turned my lights off in the garage and parked my bike facing the door, as you should. I yelled, “I’m home!” and went up to dinner.