Monday, May 30, 2011

First light

My earliest memory of God has less to do with church than with a bicycle accident.

I have never understood bikes the way I do words. Words are intangible, but there is something reassuring about them. A word, whether spoken or written, carries the weight of meaning. Properly wielded, they heal, they inspire, and they leave the world a more beautiful place than they found it. Not so bicycles. Bicycles are a bewilderment of gears and wheels that interlock and move in mysterious ways; they are tires that lose air for no reason, and harsh chains that bite pants and scrape skin. As a child, I rode my bike daily on my paper route, but ours was an uneasy relationship.

Somehow, in the summer of 1980, my older brother convinced me that I should go with him and his friends as they rode to get lunch four miles away, in Murraysville. I'd like to say that he enticed me with sweet promises of the fun we would have together, and how we would strengthen the deep fraternal bond between us. The truth is probably that our mother, who was working that day, told him he couldn't go anywhere without me, and he made it clear that I had better come.

The journey from Saunders Station to Murraysville is about three-and-a-half miles. It begins on roads with comforting names like Old Gate Road and Home Drive, but takes a turn for the worse about a half-mile into the journey, once you reach Murraysville Road.

As its name implies, Murraysville Road exists primarily to get people from Saunders Station to Murraysville, and back again. It's a road made for cars, not bikes, and because it is the principal route to retail shopping and professional services in downtown Murraysville, it is a busy road, one where cars drive 35 or 40 mph once they are past the residential area in Saunders Station. Sometimes even sooner.

Murraysville Road crests about a quarter mile after you leave Home Drive. From there, for the next mile, it's all downhill on a narrow, winding and often poorly paved road made scenic on the left by a gorge, and on the right by the sheer rock that workers cut through years ago when they built the road. If you weigh just 60 pounds, lack the natural confidence to coast without braking, and you ride a clunker of a bike, it's a terror.

While my brother and his friends were relaxed and in their element, I braked the whole way down the hill, biting my lip, tensing up any time a car came near me, and unable to bear going faster than 10 mph. At every bend, I heard them from up ahead, urging me to ease off on the brakes and allow my speed to pick up.

When the bottom of the hill was almost in sight, I finally gave in to their prodding — just in time for the pot hole. The bike went in and wrenched to the side, and threw me off. I slammed into the handlebars, twisting them so far forward that they practically touched the front tire, and landed headfirst on the pavement.

At that point, I mostly remember screaming. My brother got help at a nearby house, where an EMT from the local ambulance base happened to be visiting his parents. Bill and his friends eventually  went on their way, while an ambulance took me to the hospital, where doctors removed gravel and dirt from my forehead before stitching me up.

And it was there that I first became aware that God could be more than a character in my children's Bible. My mother, who had come at once when the call came in about my accident, remarked that God had been looking out for me that day, since there had been no cars on the road when I took my spill.

Nowadays I probably would ask why he couldn't have looked out for me a little closer and keep me from having the accident in the first place, but I was a little less cynical at 10 than I am today. My mother said what she did, and it triggered a new line of thought for me.

Suddenly God wasn't just something we talked about in church. He was real, and he mattered. It was nothing meaningful or life-changing, but the first ray of light from a deeper reality than I knew had broken through, and my spirit for the first time in my life began to stir.

It would be another eight years before the light would be bright enough that I would awake.

Copyright © 2007, 2011 by David Learn.  Used with permission.

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