Miracle Bike

A year or so before my dad passed he asked me, “Hey Sam, do you remember the time when you were a kid and you gave your bike to that guy?” It was always weird to hear him call me Sam because that’s his name too.

I did remember.

___

It was a sunny Saturday in the late seventies. The Oregon summer air was warm. The scent of musky pine and berries wafted through the screen door. My dad called for me to come outside. He was chatting with a man I didn’t know so I pushed through the door shyly and stared at the ground.

My dad pastored a Spanish-speaking church in our town so it was pretty common for folks to come around unannounced. This guy rode his bike all the way across town and across the interstate to our trailer park, so it must have been important.

My Dad said, “Sammy, so-and-so here doesn’t speak English. He wants to know if you’d be willing to trade bikes with him.”

My heart dropped like a sucker punch to the gut because I knew right away how this would end. The guy saw the look on my face and started talking while my dad translated more.

“He says he doesn’t have a car and his bike is the only transportation he has to go to work with so he needs a reliable bike.”

My eighth birthday was just a few months earlier and I got a brand new, sparkle-white ten-speed. I wanted that bike so badly but we couldn’t afford much, so I was sure I’d never get it. It was a birthday miracle bike. It was a sacrifice of love from my parents and I treasured that bike more than anything in the world.

Dad said, “You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. He’s just asking.”

I could hear the tone of my dad’s voice telling me not to do it. The guy, sensing the deal was about to fall apart, started talking right at me in whatever English he could muster up, trying to show me how much I might like his bike. I looked at the dirty white handlebars, scuffed green frame, the shifters for only three speeds.

I said, “Sure, I’ll trade.”

My dad caught my eye directly and told me more slowly, “You don’t have to trade if you don’t want to. Are you sure you want to do this?” He said it more than once so I insisted, “Yes, I’m sure, I’ll trade.”

I pulled my shiny bike out of the shed and rolled it to that guy. I took some comfort in the look on his face. He must have been about as happy as I was on my birthday with a miracle bike in his hands.

He handed his bike to me and I rode away quickly before they could see me cry. The rhythm of the creaking chain, the crooked handlebars, the sluggish gears, the tall pines, the comforting breeze on my wet cheek… I was really sad but it felt right somehow.

Why did I do it? Maybe as a pastor’s kid it was because I figured Jesus wanted me to. More than that, though, I saw a man with so little self-respect that he’d take a brand new bike from a kid just because it was nicer than his. Or maybe he was driven by an inner desperation; the kind you pick up when life hits you too hard too many times in a row. I don’t know. I felt sorry for him. Heck, I felt sorry for his bike. It was the unloved player in the script.

___

“Yeah Dad, I remember that time. What about it?”

He said, “I always remembered that and I always felt bad. I felt like I should have stepped in to stop it but I didn’t.”

“Actually, Dad, I’m glad you didn’t. I’m glad you let me do my thing.”

You see, if I had kept my bike there’d be no story, nothing to tell, and no wound to soften me.

Here’s how it is: Selfish people want your stuff. The nice ones ask, the mean ones steal, and it never feels fair even when you give willingly. But that’s life the best I remember it. It’s one of life’s terms. It took me a lifetime to accept that life doesn’t give a rat’s ass about my terms.

Now, I don’t want to sound all religious here but, whatever your spiritual or non-spiritual bent, you might appreciate a few things Jesus said when taken at face value. He said stuff like, “Hey, if you’re only kind to people who treat you kindly, what’s so special about that? Even really terrible people do that kind of thing. You want to be different? Be kind to people who are mean to you. In fact, more than that, love your enemies. Then you’ll start to resemble God because he’s kind to ungrateful people too.”

That’s a simple paraphrase but you get the gist of it. It makes a lot of sense. If you want to break free from the herd, do something completely and lovingly counter-intuitive. The world is full of sick people and the real trouble is most aren’t sick enough to get help so they’ll just stay sick.

There are certain kinds of wounds that heal the soul. Extending kindness, forgiveness, and mercy to selfish, mean, and hateful people costs you something. Sometimes it wounds you. What you get in return is a soul free from the entrapments common to most humans. Your stuff doesn’t matter as much to you any more. People matter more. At first you’re grateful for what you have then, as time passes, you’re grateful that you have the capacity for so much gratitude. That kind of gratitude heals a person.

I’m glad eight-year-old Sammy did what he did. He gave me a miracle gift: Freedom from the love of shiny things and a love for people and experiences above possessions.

So, thanks Sammy. And thanks Dad. You did it right.