I’ll never forget the smell of the summer air. Or the warmth of the wind on my cheeks and the feel of my hair blowing out behind me.
My legs pushed the pedals of my lime green, rainbow-striped three-speed, faster and faster, until I was near intoxicated with the freedom of it all. In seconds the tires would lift up off the ground and I’d take flight. I was sure of it.
As a young girl, there were few things I enjoyed as much as riding my bike. We lived several miles outside a simple midwestern town. Corn and soybean fields surrounded us on every side, cut up into squares and rectangles by miles and miles of quiet country roads. They begged to be explored, those country roads, reaching like long satin ribbons to unknown sleepy towns and ancient orchards, abandoned schools and meandering creeks. We were explorers, my friends and I. During the school year, homework and chores and family buried us. But in the summertime? We climbed onto our bikes and darn-near learned to fly.
In all that summer bike-riding, freedom-loving, life-savoring goodness, there was only one thing I hated:
Being left behind.
It didn’t happen often. Most times we pedaled in unison, stuck close together. But every now and then something happened. I pedaled too slow. Or stopped to pluck a flower. Or popped a tire, busted a chain and needed a fix. When that happened, when I couldn’t keep up and dared to look up, my friends slipped from view. It wasn’t their fault. It just happened.
Still. Just that fast, the thrill of flight was swallowed up by the ache of aloneness.
Several days ago, a friend sent me a text message:
How are you today?
A short text, four words. But I smiled when I read it. Because in the past five months—a long stretch of time that feels more like years than months—rarely has a week passed when she hasn’t sent me at least one such message. It meant the world. I texted back and told her so.
I’ve learned so much about the darkness and loneliness of suffering. I have a new empathy for those who endure …We can get busy and move on so quickly, and we forget those who can’t move at our speed … The fact that you’ve texted and prayed so faithfully has meant a great deal to me. More than you know … Thank you.
She received my gratitude, even though she didn’t understand it. I attempted to explain:
It’s hard seeing everyone living normal lives, doing normal things.
Remember when we were kids and riding bikes with friends? Remember that feeling when everyone went faster than you and left you behind, and you couldn’t catch up? It was an awful feeling, seeing everyone up ahead and feeling you weren’t a part of the group anymore. Like something was wrong with you.
But your texts are as if you’ve climbed off your bike and you’re waiting for me to catch up. Like you’re turning and seeing me there and saying, “I’m not going anywhere without you.”
The past year has been far more painful than I imagined. It’s changed me, in deep and hard-to-explain ways. Difficulty and trauma do that, I know. I’m no different than many of you who have endured your own brand of grief or pain or loss. For each hardship endured, a lesson is learned. Often more than one. This time, the lesson that rings louder in my ears than all the others is this one:
There is something sacred about choosing to suffer with one another.
Not cheering from a distance. Not making vague promises of prayer or sending positive vibes. Not waving or smiling or offering up a “I hope it all works out okay for you!” Instead, slowing down. Sharing it.
To be truly invested in relationship with one another—the kind of intimate togetherness that pedals in unison and sticks together—is to refuse the safety of distance. Or disconnection. It’s not allowing one of the group to be alone at the side of the road, left behind. Instead, it watches for those whose legs can no longer keep up. Togetherness slows down, stops, and says:
“I’m here. And I’m not going anywhere without you.”
It’s taken a year of suffering for me to see how often I’ve pedaled right past the pain of others. It’s embarrassing to admit. How many tears have I ignored? How many wounds have I neglected to see? I didn’t mean to, of course. I never set out to bubble myself against the heartache of others. But I’ve done it just the same. Enamored with my life, addicted to the feel of the wind on my face and warmth of sun on my skin, I stopped noticing those who could no longer fly.
Until I was the one at the side of the road.
You and I, we have great intentions. I know this. We don’t set out to leave anyone in our dust. We aren’t trying to live blind. But it isn’t easy to slow down enough to step into another’s pain, to help carry their grief and share their sadness. It isn’t easy to give up the feel of flight in order to stop and suffer at the side of the road with another.
And yet, I’m learning that to live at arm’s length from the needs of those around us is to miss something sacred. When we move so quickly that we fail to see the faces and stories and needs all around us, we miss the most important gift we’ve been given all along:
The sweetness of togetherness.
How important is togetherness to you? Who needs that from you today?
Michele – this is such a beautiful post! It portrays so perfectly the sacredness of friendship that sticks with you through even the suffering. And it describes so well what it feels like to be suffering differently from others… To feel like the only one who is “sick” or in any kind of pain (emotionally, spiritually, physically). It is so isolating. And you are right! Those who stick with you authentically through it all have no idea what a salve they are to or wounds and aloneness. I love this. Thanks for posting!
I love everything about this post. I would say my heart beats for togetherness. I love walking with people in every stage of life. I love the laughter and the tears that come with celebrations and heartache. It is in my nature to give togetherness. I love people. For me, to give togetherness is a passion, but to receive togetherness is a fear. It makes me tick a little just thinking about it. ha! My heart has found that to be a hard and fear filled place. I hate that. I am slowly finding the right “togethers” for me. It has been healing and beautiful. Love you much friend!
Oh, I love this post Michele. 2014 was a difficult year for me and it was truly the ones who checked in on me with a simple, ‘How are you?’ that kept me sane. I want so much to remember to pause and do this for others just as they did for me. It’s all too easy to get caught up in our own lives and to forget to check in on others who are having a difficult time. Thank you for this reminder of what I want to be sure to continue to do, and I know exactly who needs me to check in with her today. 🙂
Another lovely note to us all – thanks! Every day goes by so quickly, doesn’t it? And we always believe a tomorrow will come. This post reminded me to reach out to someone who I have been thinking of. It also tells me that one person cannot reach out to everyone, but I think there are those who get a spiritual connection with another and keeps them close, as your friend has for you. Don’t beat yourself up about not connecting with everyone, but know you have made the connections you were meant to. (reminders help though!) XO
Oh Michele……thank you for this precious reminder. I wholeheartedly believe that one of Satan’s best tools is busyness and right up there with it is our own comfort. Your message so applies to our work with senior adults, many who feel so left out and left behind. I continue to pray for you and your family….you’ve got a big graduation coming up…..Bittersweet for sure, but what an awesome son you have raised! Love and prayers, Valerie
Up till my diagonis’s’ of colon cancer last year I road bikes. Mountian and road. It was what my husband I did when empty nest hit. I have made awesome friends on our bkies. Some have stuck by me and others are riding on, Its so hard to be sidelined. I’m in the middle of round 8 of 12 chemo cycles and this one is tough. Its the days like today that are hard and I need a little company. I know that God is using me in lots of ways, and growing me in many more. I want to remembe what I needed when I was down to help others. Today, I’m on the recieving side and with His healing powers I pray I can psss it on. This post hit me right where I’m at in life.
I’m sending prayers your way for healing and peace.
What a beautiful post Michele. It has prompted me to reach out to a friend who just lost her mother suddenly. For the first few weeks I checked in often. You have reminded me to keep doing that. I know all too well how hard it is to keep one’s world going when it has changed so very much for you but not for everyone else. They keep going and you wonder how they can possibly do that when your world will never be the same. I’m sending that text now!
Thanks so much for the visual in this post. A great reminder and encouragement for those of us on the bikes, and those of us who have had to step off the path for a while.
It is in times of isolation where God speaks to us, whispers in fact, YOU WERE NOT MEANT TO LIVE ALONE. We all need others to lift our arms and spirits. Thank you again for you courage, brutal honesty, and for allowing God to mold and shape you for the benefit of others, myself included, during this season of your life!
Michelle thank you for posting this. I keep hearing words from you and others. “Just show up”. Be there, even when it is hard. Last year I had breast cancer. Many people showed up for me, right on the heels of mine a good friend of mine also was diagnosed with Breast cancer. The togetherness the women in my church has developed because of the suffering has been BEAUTIFUL. I find my self really telling people how I am doing, and ask them how they are doing with so much in front of them. This past year I have had a sense that God may be leading me in a change of a different path. As a nurse I am wondering if he is asking me to encourage those that are suffering. The scariest part is becoming vulnerable. Can my heart handle so much suffering. But yet there is such sacredness and beauty in that.
What a beautiful post! After only a week of enduring my own little “bump in the road” with Bell’s Palsy, God is using it to show me how quickly I move in general; and in that, I miss things. But more importantly, I miss people who are hurting. He’s also showing me how to just embrace being loved by those who never leave us behind.
Can’t help but think about this scriptures in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 after reading your post,
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
First time I’ve posted here, but have visited your blog many times along with listening to your podcast with Michael Hyatt. You are a blessing!
Oh Michele…this is just beautiful, and so convicting. I’m good about keeping up with someone going through a difficult season…for a little while. Then I get back on my bike and forget they’re behind me. Thank you for opening my eyes. Your words always inspire, friend!
I love your writing. Every once in a great while I will read a blog post (and I read a lot of blogs) that expresses EXACTLY what I’m feeling and thinking. This one nails it. Thank you for this, Michele!
Michele, I just turned my bike around. I am coming back to help you fix your chain. I may have to ride ahead a couple of times during the journey, but I will always come back to check.
BTW I know the feeling! I once ran with you!!!!!!