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Back in the Saddle

The first time I ever got on a motorcycle, I only rode it for a few minutes before I wiped out.

I had borrowed it from a friend. We were seniors in high school. He and his younger brother had each had one, but the brother had left it — and all his other worldly possessions — behind to go into the seminary. It was the brother’s bike I was riding. A Kawasaki EX 500. All black with gray trim and some purple and blue racing stripes. (Hey, it was the nineties!) My friend, not too big on wordy explanations, had given me a three-second tutorial before I took it for a spin, pointing to various parts of the bike as he named their purpose: “Gas. Clutch. Brake. That’s it.” I wasn’t going far, just tooling around the driveway that ran around the perimeter of the school grounds, and I wasn’t expecting anything exciting. My buddy was on the nearby soccer field practicing his footwork, keeping an eye on me from afar. I never got over about 20 or 30 miles per hour, but I had to take a sharp turn or crash into some trees, and I hadn’t slowed down quite enough. I suppose I was reluctant to lean into the turn because I wasn’t used to the weight of the bike yet, and how far I could go without tipping it. On a motorcycle, just like with a bicycle, you don’t so much steer to turn, you lean. As you initiate a turn, you also need to counter-steer just a little — sort of turn your front wheel ever so slightly in the opposite direction of the turn. If you turn the handlebars in the same direction as the turn, like you would in a car, the angle combined with the vector of the lean would turn your wheel into the road surface, and then physics gets all confrontational with you and things don’t go well.

I’m not saying that’s what happened. I was never really sure what happened. Whatever it was, it transpired very quickly. All I know is that one minute, I was breezing along on a fine autumn day in Texas, and the next, I was skidding along the pavement on my side, making it twenty or thirty feet before I came to rest at the foot of a statute of the Blessed Virgin that overlooked the grounds. Because I was just riding around the parking lot, I wasn’t wearing a helmet, but somehow my head never touched the ground. There was a black line of asphalt residue running right up the seam of my jeans and my jacket from ankle to shoulder. And I had landed right at the feet of Our Lady, not so much as a bruise on my body or a hair out of place.

The moment was not lost on me.

My friend came and helped me lift the bike. The faring was pretty scratched up, and I could see that he wasn’t happy. He had been planning on selling it, and I’d just made it that much more difficult to do. And I was broke. I had nothing to offer to help him fix it. I was devastatingly embarrassed, but he didn’t make a big deal about it. He just said, “When you fall off a horse, you have get right back on, or else you’re always going to be afraid.” He grew up on a farm, and I figured he knew what he was talking about. Nervous but determined, I did exactly that, and rode it around for long enough that I could prove to him — and to myself — I wouldn’t make that mistake again.

I thought of this story today as I sat down to write. I kind of feel like I’ve been skidding along on the pavement for a while now while the Virgin Mary keeps me out of too much trouble. It’s been three weeks since I told you about my move back across country, but even longer since I’ve been thinking about much of anything else. In many respects, the last couple of years of my life has mostly been a huge blur. Like many of you, the list of crosses and challenges my family has weathered during that period is too lengthy and personal to recount here, but combined with the deepening ecclesiastical crisis, it has kept me in a nearly-perpetual defensive crouch.

I did not expect to return home so soon. And yet, suddenly, here I am, staring out the window at the barren trees of a Mid-Atlantic winter, listening to sleet fall, instead of squinting into the sun to see the sand and cactus of Arizona. This is the view from my newly-set up desk, as I write. There’s still a lot of moving and unpacking to do, and I’ve been mostly too busy to think. I’m not quite sure I’ve processed that I’m here yet. The abrupt change of scenery and all that goes with it has been surreal, to say the least, but also good. I wasn’t sure when we started, but I have a feeling this will turn out to have been a positive change.

Today, my first day with functioning Internet and a fully-set-up computer, I sat down with the idea that I should write something, but I quickly realized I didn’t know how to get back on that horse. For the last few weeks, I’ve been a mover, a driver, an errand runner, a photographer, a videographer, a dad, a husband, and a guy who is finally starting to feel too old to be doing all this…but not a writer. According to my trusty Fitbit, since February 15th, I’ve walked 226,934 steps, ascended 349 floors, and traversed 112.95 miles. This is not the usual activity level of a full-time writer. I’ve been everywhere but at my desk.

But just like the day I got up off the pavement, shook off the jitters, got back in the seat of that Kawasaki and started driving, I made myself sit down today in front of the keyboard. I had no idea what to write about, but I knew that the only way to shake the rust off would be to start typing. Next thing I knew, I was telling you a long-forgotten story, and the words came without much effort on my part at all. The next time, they’ll come even easier. Pretty soon, I might even have something interesting to say.

I’ll tell you this much: we’ve got a lot to do this year, and for the first time since January, I feel like I’m actually kicking off 2018 with — at least for the moment — no more major obstacles in sight. Now it’s time to turn this thing up to eleven. Stay tuned. The show’s just getting started.

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