Summer is here and that means bicycle riding for me. Having grown up with bikes, taken bike day trips with my family, commuted by bike, ridden mountain bike trails and long stretches of open road, I feel very much at home on a bike.
I got an inside view of the world of bikes when I worked at a bike shop early in my nun life. Yes, I worked at a bike shop as a Catholic sister! It’s an interesting story and the short version is that I had done my MA in theology on the theologian Karl Rahner, SJ, whose fundamental belief is that we can directly experience God at any time, any place. At the time, I was in need of a part-time ministry and so I reasoned that if God is in all things, then surely God is in a bike shop. Why not do ministry there? I loved bikes, and I loved working with mechanics (my dad and brother are engineers), and I wanted to interact with ordinary folks in ordinary moments. So after consulting with my nuns, I applied for a summer job and managed to beat out the competition (a handful of high school boys). It was one of my best experiences of formation — learning how to be with people, to minister with them outside the ordinary or obvious places of church ministry.
In the bike shop, you meet a lot — I mean a lot — of characters from every economic bracket, educational level, age, culture, etc. Each person has a story, and when you see them that way, you find there are so many opportunities for being present to them. And often, a bike marks a significant moment in their life. Why? Because ultimately, it’s not about the bike. A new bike or a repair to a bike is often loaded with meaning. One guy lost his job and couldn’t afford to drive so he needed a bike to get around. A mom and dad bought their child’s first bike. A woman’s husband was emotionally abusive (we saw it first hand in the store) and she wanted a bike to get out of the house more often. A young woman bought a road bike for her first triathlon marking her journey to feel better about herself.
My bike is also a marker of significant moments in my life. It is priceless because of the stories attached to it — both good times and bad. I am highly protective of it and take good care of it. When I first moved to Chicago I went through at least 4 different bike shops until I found a shop where the people there had expertise I trusted and showed care about “the story” that people have with their bike or bike riding.
What significant moments does your bike (or similar thing) hold for you?