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Sunday, August 16, 2015

What I Learned This Week: Beyond the Stop Sign

When we were kids we played on our grandmother's street. We rode bikes and roller skates and skate boards, we had foot races and played chasing games. The only restriction to the scope of our play was the stop sign at the end of the street. Grandma said that we were not allowed to go beyond the stop sign. We played content within the confines of the block, the signs at either end being the imagined forcefield that kept us safe.

The other day I climbed onto my bicycle to take a ride. I was by myself. I packed my cell phone, a speaker, a bottle of water and a towel in the basket on the front of my bike and started to ride. As I neared the end of the block I looked up at the stop sign and remembered Grandma's street. I remembered how it felt to be held by the red and white octagon. Secure.

Several miles down the road I thought about that sign again. What was it protecting me from? 

The symbolism in that sign and my ability to ride past it became more and more evident with every pump of pedal and brush of wind against my face. There was a training ground inside those signs. It was a place where I would learn to look out for cars, the safety of the sidewalk. In that space of one block I explored who I was and how I fit in the world. I wasn't old enough to explore beyond that space. Grandma knew that. She knew that confining me to the amount of freedom that I could handle would later prepare me for the blocks beyond, the new stop signs, the yields and the no-parkings.

As I slipped past five miles I started to pick up speed. I started breathing deep. In those freeing moments I began to look around at the world beyond the stop sign. I started to see the different people smiling and waving as I rode by. I started to notice the flowers on the side of the road and the way the trees built a canopy overhead. I stood on the pedals and used my strength to climb, something I hadn't had to do on the block in front of Grandma's house. Pulling the bike on the will of my own strength.

The eight mile marker was at the top of a hill. I slowed my feet as the bike took off on it's own in the pull of gravity. My shirt pressed against my body and I breathed in the cool air as it pulled loose hair behind my head into the breeze. I was floating. The wind brushed against my arms like feathers. I couldn't help but to smile. This was an incredible freeing experience. There was nothing holding me. There were no stop signs as I glided down the hill. This was the place where I wanted to be. It was what I had been preparing for. 

Leveling off and dropping into a steady rhythm of push and pull I pedaled my bike. The ride wasn't over but I had a new understanding and appreciation for the stop sign. It wasn't the thing that held me back, it was the thing that, when I was ready, would release me. I don't begrudge the training; the world is beyond the stop sign. 

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